Viet Nam News
By Minh Thu
A set of West Lake shrimp cakes is colourful and eye-catching. Before they enjoy the taste, gourmets can be fascinated by the visual harmony of red shrimps, yellow fried cakes and green herbs such as lettuce, sprouts and basil.
Sauces also offer customers an interesting gustatory experience. It’s a symphony of fish sauce, sugar and vinegar creating a balance of salty, spicy, sour and sweet tastes—not too much or too little of any flavour.
The sauce is decorated with red-coloured carrots and green and white of pickles made from papaya and hints of garlic. All work together to create an unforgettable flavour for the shrimp cakes.
This is a specialty of Hà Nội that I always recommend to my friends who come to visit the city.
There are two popular places to enjoy shrimp cakes: restaurants near Phủ Tây Hồ (West Lake Temple) and Bánh Tôm Hồ Tây Restaurant in Thanh Niên Street.
Visiting West Lake Temple and enjoying the specialties of West Lake have been a custom for my family at the beginning of the Lunar new year.
Bountiful: Shrimp cakes are displayed at many restaurants near West Lake Temple. — VNS Photo Minh Thu
Located on a peninsula in the middle of the shore of West Lake in Hà Nội, West Lake Temple is dedicated to the Mother Goddesses and the Jade Emperor. We come to pray for a peaceful and prosperous year. After that, we enjoy bún ốc (rice vermicelli with fresh water snails) and shrimp cakes, two must-try specialties of West Lake. These dishes are served at many restaurants near the site.
Sitting at the restaurants, enjoying the view of the West Lake and savouring these delicious cakes make for an ideal afternoon.
Nguyễn Thị Phương, owner of Phương Vi Restaurant on Quảng Khánh Street (near Tây Hồ Temple) said the cakes are delicious not only because they are made from the fresh ingredients but also because of the chef’s good skill.
The cake crust is made from the scrumptious flour. Shrimp cake coating must be soft and smooth. In addition, people can also taste the flavor of sweet potato added to the cakes.
Traditionally, the shrimps used were grown in West Lake because only these shrimps can yield the cake’s very unique taste. Now sellers use fresh water shrimps to make the cake because the shrimps caught in the lake can’t meet the demands of the customers.
The frying process is very important, too. The cakes are deep fried in oil at the suitable temperature so that they do not absorb too much oil and have a nice look and good taste.
Vivid: A set of West Lake shrimp cakes looks very eye-catching with various colours: red shrimps, yellow fried cakes and green herbs. — VNS Photo Minh Thu
“The method of making shrimp cakes is quite simple but requires a lot of skill and meticulousness,” said Phương.
“All you need to do is to mix wheat flour, a little yeast, baking powder and curry powder with water. After that, form the flour into several small round shapes and put one big shrimp to two small shrimps on top of each of them.”
“Heat the frying pan, pour cooking oil and put the cakes into the pan. Wait a few minutes for the cakes to float up and then the dish is ready to be served.”
The cooks have to ensure that the amount of flour, powder and water is just enough and the shrimps are still fresh — that’s the most important secret to make the good cake.
Phương said her restaurant is very crowded at the beginning of the year when people flock to Tây Hồ Temple to pray. When people are fed up with bánh chưng (square glutinous cake), giò (pork roll) and other dishes of a Tết (Lunar New Year) feast, they always find bún ốc and shrimp cakes as a way to ease the culinary tedium.
Over the years, West Lake shrimp cakes have become engraved in the memories of many generations of Hanoians. Though simple, these special cakes are a special contribution to the cuisine of this thousand-year-old city. Today, you can find them not only at sidewalk-side shops but also at elegant restaurants. — VNS