Monday, September 22, 2008

Mom’s Recipes: Bánh Bột Lọc

Bánh bột lọc are ravioli-like dumplings typically made with shrimp for a filling. Their exterior, made with tapioca flour, has a chewy texture that I think most Westerners find hard to appreciate. Of course, my mom’s family has to do things differently (well, the filling anyway). I have never had bánh bột lọc like this elsewhere, not even in Vietnam.

I am enjoying this blogging process because it is forcing me to ask questions and I am finding I am learning new things about my family. Not just that, I get to record it, because my memory is not the most reliable. So if you’re not interested in the background of this simple recipe, just skip the next part in italic.

I asked my mom where this bánh bột lọc recipe came from. She thinks it’s from Huế. But we don’t have any family from Huế? No, but my grandmother’s adoptive mother (for lack of a better term) would have been from Huế (imperial capital of the Nguyễn Dynasty until 1945), having royal blood. Ah… so this is really a story of my bà ngoại (maternal grandmother).

I had always heard growing up my mother teasing that my bà ngoại had such refined taste because of her royal upbringing. The story I heard was that she was brought up by a princess. I’ve gotten bits and pieces of the story, but here is the whole story.

My bà ngoại was about 15-16 years old (or so my mom gathers – she knew how to knit and crochet) when she got lost during the war. Not the Vietnam war, but rather the Indochina war. My bà ngoại came from Quy Nhơn and was found in Quảng Ngãi. She was taken in by a lady who happened to be the daughter of Emperor Thành Thái, of the Nguyễn Dynasty. My mom called this lady Mệ Hai. My mom isn’t sure if Mệ Hai's mother would have been the Emperor's first wife or possibly a concubine. However, she was well taken care of and married a high ranking official. The details are a bit hazy since I am getting the account second hand and my bà ngoại doesn't really like talking about it. My bà ngoại says she was well taken care of and learned all her cooking there. She lived with Mệ Hai until she got married. Her father was able to find her years later.

My mother says that when she was young, my bà ngoại would make bánh bột lọc, following Mệ Hai's recipe, and ask her to bring some to Mệ Hai. My mother hated it because not only did she have to deliver it, she was expected to wait, arms crossed, while the lady tried the bánh bột lọc. The lady would then ask my mom to report back to my bà ngoại that though it was good, it was not quite right and she would proceed to list what was wrong. Supposedly, my mom, even at that age, did not appreciate being treated like a servant.

Bánh Bột Lọc – makes 32 bánh
Ok, so for the recipe. Gastronomy has a recipe for the traditional bánh bột lọc with shrimp and pork. I really like Mệ Hai's filling but it requires more chopping. I usually “help” my mom by eating the filling while she fills the bánh bột lọc. You should season to taste but we like this very peppery, Huế style. My mom accidentally bought flour specifically made for bánh bột lọc, but tapioca flour can be used instead.

* 1 tsp oil
* 1 small onion, small diced
* 300 g lean pork, small cubed (fattier pork can be used as the traditional bánh bột lọc requires)
* 150 g shrimp, chopped
* 1 can bamboo shoots - 300 g, drain and small cubed
* 2 tsp salt
* 1 tsp ground pepper (we used 2!)
* 1-½ tsp sugar

Heat up some oil.
Saute onion until softened.
Add the pork and shrimp.
Season with salt, pepper and sugar.
Once the pork and shrimp are cooked, add the bamboo and mix.
Cook until any liquid has evaporated.

Bamboo shoots, canned and chopped.

Filling of pork, shrimp and bamboo for bánh bột lọc.

* 1 package bánh bột lọc flour - 300 g (or tapioca flour)
* 1 cup of water (¼ cup room temperature, ¾ cup hot water)
* extra flour for hand and roll

Mix the tapioca flour and water.
Knead until there are no lumps.
Take half the dough and roll it with your hands into a log.
Cut in quarters and cut each quarter in four again, making 16 even pieces.
Make sure each piece has no lumps, or knead it again slightly - lumps will cause the shell to break.
Roll each piece into a flat circle, about 10 cm in diametre.
Repeat with the second half of the dough.

Package of bánh bột lọc flour.

Dough for bánh bột lọc shell.

Even pieces of dough for rolling out.

Rolling out each piece into a flat circle.

To assemble and cook
Add a tablespoon or so of the filling onto the middle of the circle - not too ful or it will burst.
Fold dough over and close the sides by pressing the dough around the exterior, making a half-circle.
Crimp the sides by pressing dough between your fingers, folding over and repeat (optional - if you want to make it pretty).
Boil some water in a medium sized pot with a bit of oil so the bánh bột lọc do not stick to each other.
Turn down the water to simmering - boiling water could cause the bánh bột lọc to burst.
Add about 8-10 bánh bột lọc to the simmering water for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is cooked.
Take out with a little strainer.
Serve with scallion oil and nước chấm.

Adding filling to the shell.

Folding the bánh bột lọc and crimping the edge.

Bánh bột lọc, uncooked and cooking in pot.

Serve with scallion oil.

Close-up of the filling inside the bánh bột lọc.


Wandering Chopsticks said...

Such a fascinating story about your grandma.

My mom adds bamboo to her banh bot loc too. She just makes it into a ball instead of folding it over though. She also adds tree ear fungus.

What other people call banh bot loc, we call banh quai/tai vac. I think only Central people do both, so we make that distinction.

It's nice to have another Central VNese blogger so I don't feel like I have to explain that we do things differently!

Gastronomer said...

WC & Miss Adventure - You guys are freaks. I mean, really. Who puts bamboo shoots in their banh bot lot? And wood ear mushrooms? That's just not right.

Miss.Adventure said...

My two loyal readers!

WC: You're the first person I know who also eats it that way!

G: You don't know what you're missing!!

cakewardrobe said...

Did you add cornstarch to the flour? When I tried making the dough and rolling it out, it kept shrinking. It was very hard to work with!