Apr 06 2011
Strolling past Saigon’s numerous street food vendors will make most travellers hungry, but the problem is most of us wonder: what the heck are they making? Today I’ll tell you about one of my personal favourites, a food eaten in Vietnam for breakfast, lunch and dinner: banh cuon (pronounced: bon-koo-on).
Looking at a prepared plate of banh cuon may not solve the mystery of the ingredients. It looks like a soft spring roll, filled with a questionable substance, served with chunks of unknown meat and bread. But don’t worry, it tastes delicious and the ingredients are actually common foods.
Banh cuon starts with a steamed rice roll cooked on a pot, covered by thin fabric, until it is extremely thin. It is then scrapped off the pot with a flexible bamboo stick. Next, the roll is filled with a mixture of pork, wood ear mushrooms, onions, and fish sauce.
Unlike, the north, where it is served with coriander and mint, in Saigon the finished product is served with slices of cha lua, Vietnamese ham, bean sprouts, deep fried bread, and as always no Viet dish would be complete without nuoc mam, or fish sauce. As opposed to other regions in Vietnam in Saigon most stands also offer the vegetarian option of banh cuon thanh tri, which is the roll with no filling.
Banh cuon stands face their rush times during breakfast and dinner, so finding stalls still selling the dish in late morning or evening can be difficult. Smaller stands have a limited supply of ingredients and once they run out they simply pack up.
Use your better judgment when eating from street vendors, but on average I find that banh cuon carts are some of the cleaner carts on the street, and wearing plastic gloves is a common practice among these vendors. A plate will usually cost between 15,000 and 20,000 VND on the street and, if you’re afraid of the carts, between 25,000 and 50,000 VND in a local restaurant.
Now you can walk up to a banh cuon cart and order with confidence, but be warned, once you try this Vietnamese delicacy you may not want to eat anything else. Next thing you know the banh cuon lady on the corner may have one waiting for you when you head off to work every morning … not that this has happened to me, but I have a friend and they may be addicted.
The stands are everywhere, here are a couple restaurants that serve it.
Banh Cuon la 96 Ham Nghi, D.1 T: (08) 913 8033
Tay Ho 127 Dinh Tien Hoang Street, D. 1 T: (08) 820 0584
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