FLAT OUT

Bánh cuốn, or stuffed rice pancake, isn’t a luxury food but has become a favourite not only of Vietnamese but also many foreigners.

By Jessica Nguyen on December 07,2017 11:11 AM

FLAT OUT

‘I feel like I’ve just swallowed a piece of “silk”,’ Marco Lipuma, our German friend, exclaimed as soon as he tried his first bite of bánh cuốn. ‘It’s outstanding, cool and ‘slippery’!’ After his first taste in September, within the following month he’d tried it five more times. ‘I don’t like food rich in protein, so this is a good choice and I think it’s also a perfect detox food after so many holiday feasts.’

The story of Banh Cuon Ba Hoanh, or Mrs Hoanh’s Bánh Cuốn, dates back around 70 years, when a woman named Ly Thi Hong married her husband, Nguyen Van Hoanh, from Thanh Tri village in Hanoi’s Hoang Mai district, which is famed in the capital for its typical dish: bánh cuốn. In the tradition of the time, she took on her husband’s name and became Mrs Hoanh, and learned the art of making bánh cuốn from her mother-in-law.

She opened her first bánh cuốn stall on the footpath on To Hien Thanh Street. Some years later, in the 1950s, she opened a ‘real’ bánh cuốn restaurant at 37 To Hien Thanh Street. In the years since it has become a familiar destination for many Hanoians. On weekends are rows of motorbikes out front, with lines of people waiting patiently inside the cramped space to be served. A second, larger restaurant was opened later a short distance away by Mrs Hoanh’s children, which eased the chaos at the first.

FLAT OUT

It’s far different from bánh cuốn nóng, or hot stuffed rice cake (a very hot light crepe rolled with ground pork, minced wood ear mushrooms, and onions). Mrs Hoanh’s bánh cuốn is not rolled, but kept in sheets without any filling, and sprinkled with fried onions. When eating, each of these ivory white thin layers of cake is peeled out and placed on a plate, which is then placed on a small bamboo mantle with herbs and a bowl of sauce. The bánh cuốn is eaten with Vietnamese ham (chả lụa) another specialty also prepared by Mrs Hoanh’s family.

The reason for its thinness is how it’s made. ‘Mrs Hoanh’s bánh cuốn can be made extremely thin because it strictly follows the traditional method of cooking,’ said her youngest daughter-in-law, who now runs the restaurant. ‘It’s steamed over a fabric- covered pot that can quickly cook the rice flour, keeping it moist and malleable.’ A very thin layer of batter is poured on to the cloth and evenly spread and steams paper-thin in less than a minute. The chef uses a flat and flexible bamboo stick to lift the delicate rice crepe and places it on a fresh banana leaf. The stuffed rice cakes are then served cold later.

Although stuffed pancake is made from familiar ingredients such as rice, oil, and onions, it still attracts a lot of diners because of its delicious taste. One of the secrets to making a delicious stuffed pancake is choosing good rice. ‘Good rice makes a delicious pancake that is thin and silky,’ her daughter-in-law said. Another important factor is the sauce, which is a combination of fish sauce, sugar, and vinegar. And don’t forget to top the bowl of sauce with some stir-fried onions; the taste is awesome!

Banh Cuon Ba Hoanh

No 37 & 66 To Hien Thanh St.,

Hai Ba Trung Dist., Hanoi

Tel: 0989 083 570

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