Viet Nam News
With a history stretching back thousands of years, bánh cuốn (steamed rolled pancakes) still proves to be a popular choice for diners in Việt Nam, and has even inspired some of the country’s renowned writers.
Among the well-known offerings of Hà Nội street food, bánh cuốn is consistently ranked a top choice.
Vũ Bằng, a writer known for his beautiful prose on ancient Hà Nội, once wrote that “a visitor from Hải Phòng, Nam Định or Thanh Nghệ, for example, that comes to Hà Nội and has the chance to eat bánh cuốn served with hot fried tofu will never forget this special dish.”
Bánh cuốn was born in Thanh Trì, an ancient suburb of Hà Nội, and bánh cuốn of Thanh Trì is still said to be the best.
Bằng wrote that he had been to several rural markets, and tried all types of rolled cake, but often the thick rice paper or strong smell of rice flour he found fell short of the bánh cuốn of Thanh Trì, and enhanced his longing for Hà Nội
When thinking of these pancakes, the Vietnamese may conjure images of Thanh Trì rolled pancakes, which is thin like paper and looks almost transparent. Taking a piece of rolled pancakes – the thin Thanh Trì rice paper rolled with a few wood ear mushrooms and some spring onions fried in oil and dipped in fish sauce – is a delight for the senses. Bánh cuốn is often served with fried tofu or chả (Vietnamese sausage).
When he was away from Hà Nội during wartime, the young Vũ Bằng missed his hometown and its food, especially the bánh cuốn.
He wrote “Once one has tasted the rolled pancake, he would remember it for the rest of his life. He would miss everything about it – from the dipping sauce, and the texture to the graceful posture of the pancake vendor.”
In times gone by, the pancakes would be seen piled high in vendors’ baskets. The vendors, with their baskets full of delicacies were described as “having graceful and agile postures” by writer Thạch Lam. The women travelled around the city selling the rolled pancakes.
Nowadays, diners in Hà Nội can find old eateries serving Thanh Trì pancakes, like Thanh Vân pancake or Mrs Hoành pancakes, just to name a few.
Today’s rolled pancake sellers are still ‘graceful’ and ‘agile’ in the way Thạch Lam described – when customers order, they prepare rice flour, spread a spoonful of wet batter over the closely woven steaming basket and then take out the almost-transparent rice sheet with a bamboo stick.
Minced pork and wood ear mushrooms are then rolled in the rice sheet, ready to be served with dipping sauce. The sauce served with the rolled pancake is similar to that in bún chả (noodles served with grilled pork) – fish sauce with sugar, water (to lessen the saltiness), chili and vinegar.
Traditionally, cà cuống was added to the dipping sauce (cà cuống is a fragrant oil made from an insect). However, today it is hard to find such an addition.
Other localities including Cao Bằng and Lào Cai developed their own version of the rolled cake, with their own unique take on the dish.
In the northern provinces of Cao Bằng and Lạng Sơn, rolled pancakes are eaten with pork bone broth, instead of fish sauce like in Hà Nội. While spreading wet batter over the steaming basket, cooks would add an egg, and then cover the cooked egg with a rice sheet. Diners could add some fermented bamboo shoots and chili to fortify their broth. VNS
Bánh cuốn can be found at:
66 Tô Hiến Thành Street.
14 Hàng Gà Street.
101 Bà Triệu Street.
61 Huỳnh Thúc Kháng Street.
11A Cao Thắng Street.
17A Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai Street.
353 Lê Văn Sỹ Street.