One of my favourite Vietnamese dishes (and a rather labour intensive one) is bánh bèo. Bánh bèo is made up of small steamed rice flour cakes with a topping. The cakes can be served in individual dishes (bánh bèo chén) or laid out in a plate, and come in different sizes. I had many varieties when I was in Vietnam. The most commonly known is bánh bèo Huế because it originates from the ancient capital of Huế; it is topped with shrimp and eaten with fish sauce. However, there is another version that originates from Quảng Ngãi, where my mom comes from. These are made thicker because a sauce is served on the cakes. I also had a chance to try these when I was in Quảng Ngãi.
Bánh Bèo - Making the Cakes (Makes 40-50 cakes)
Making the batter is not the intensive part of the recipe. It's steaming them in individual little dishes. It just takes some time. It's best to use little sauce dishes but as you can see below, my mom took out any small dishes that she owns. If you're lucky, you know someone who sells them. My mom does and sometimes orders them when she's lazy. It's sold in quantities of 50 or 100.
* ½ lb rice flour
* 2 tbsp tapioca flour
* 2-¼ cups water
* 1 tsp vegetable oil
Mix the flours together in a large bowl.
Slowly add water while mixing, to prevent lumps.
Add the vegetable oil and mix in.
Set up a steamer and place dishes you will be using.
Spoon about 1 tbsp of batter (a bit thicker for the sauce topping).
Steam for about 4 minutes.
Remove the cakes with the help of a small knife and place them in a large bowl.
Repeat again and again until you run out of batter.
My mom says the perfect bánh bèo should have a small circular valley in the middle, like the smallest dish in the middle of the steamer.
Bánh Bèo Huế
Even though I'm from Quảng Ngãi, I prefer bánh bèo Huế. I love every component of this dish: the delicate bánh bèo, the salty, shredded shrimp topping and everything doused in fish sauce. The cakes are also usually topped with deep fried pork rind, which adds a nice crunch.
The shrimp topping can be made with fresh or dried shrimp. My mom always makes it with dried shrimps. Using fresh shrimps would follow a similar process, cooking them until they are dry.
* 1 package dried shrimps
* ½ onion, sliced thinly
Soak the dried shrimps for an hour to hydrate them and drain them.
Heat up oil in a pan.
Sauté shrimp and onion slices, until the shrimps have dried up again.
Shred in a food processor until you obtain orange strings of shrimp goodness!
After soaking in water and cooking with onion.
Pork Rind Topping
Traditionally pork rind is used for the crunchy topping but I've also seen it being replaced by pieces of deep fried bread (similar to croutons).
* sheet of pork rind, cut in little cubes
Heat up a good amount of oil in a pan.
Deep fry the pieces of pork rind and drain on paper towel.
Sheet of pork rind, deep fried.
Putting it all together
* bánh bèo
* hành mỡ (scallion oil) shrimp topping
* pork rind topping nước chấm (dipping fish sauce)
Place bánh bèo on a plate, slightly overlapping them.
Spread some scallion oil on the bánh bèo.
Distribute the shrimp topping on top of all the bánh bèo.
Sprinkle the pork rind topping.
Add fish sauce and dig in.
Bánh Bèo Quảng Ngãi
While I admitted preferring bánh bèo Huế, it's nice to be able to be able to have... both! I think this is my mom's favourite of eating bánh bèo. It's more of a sauce than a topping, and so, I think, makes it a more comforting dish. My mom likes making a thicker bánh bèo to hold up to the sauce. When she orders them, she'll ask that a few be made thicker and makes the sauce herself.
* 1 tbsp oil
* 150 g ground pork
* 50 g shrimp, finely chopped
* 1 bunch of green onions – white and green parts separated
* 2 tsp salt
* 1 tbsp sugar
* 1 can lobster paste (or shrimp/crab paste), about 3 oz
* 2 cups water
* black ground pepper
* 2 tbsp tapioca flour (or cornstarch)
Sauté the white parts of the green onion, shrimp and pork in oil.
Add the salt and sugar and mix.
Stir in the lobster paste.
Season with ground pepper.
Bring to a boil and turn down the heat.
Add tapioca flour dissolved in ½ cup water.
Stir in and mix in green onions.
Cook down to desired consistency (it should be a bit runny).
Add the sauce onto a plate of bánh bèo.
Ground pork and shrimp for the sauce.
This saucy version is also pretty good!
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