|Bột chiên is typically made with rice flour, tapioca starch and egg. – VNS Photo Việt Dũng|
HCM CITY — Few street snacks have remained as popular with HCM City youth and adults as bột chiên (the fried rice flour cake).
The dish is said to have originated in the Sino-Vietnamese community in Chợ Lớn (an area in HCM City where many people of Chinese origin live) as an adaptation of a Chinese dish made with rice flour and daikon radish.
To make bột chiên, rice flour, tapioca starch, water, oil and salt are mixed together, then steamed and set aside to cool off.
The flour block is diced into small bite-sized pieces and deep-fried with eggs, which holds the cubes together. Certain vendors may fry the flour pieces lightly beforehand so that they can be deep-fried more quickly the second time, which makes them even crispier.
After being garnished with spring onions, a plate of piping hot, sizzling bột chiên is often served to office workers and students hungry for a quick snack in the afternoon.
One of the most important factors for a good bột chiên is the dipping sauce, which can be poured directly on the cake. Usually made from soy sauce, sugar and spices, the sauce is crucial for adding a rich savoury taste to the fatty dish.
The crunchy golden outer layer of the carefully fried bột chiên, the moist, slight starchy middle of the rice flour cake, and the crispy egg combined with the rich dipping sauce with a hint of sweetness, has made bột chiên a popular street food among HCM City locals for decades.
Bôt chiên is typically eaten with shredded green papaya processed with vinegar, giving it a slightly sour tang to offset its rich flavour.
|Bột chiên has been a popular snack for children and adults in HCM City for decades. — VNS Photo Việt Dũng|
Many locals in HCM City have made a living selling bột chiên, and it is a part of many students’ childhoods.
Nguyễn Văn Sắc, for example, has been running a bột chiên street stall on District 1’s Phùng Khắc Khoan Street for more than 30 years.
Nguyễn Bá Đăng, 43, remembers when Sắc’s stall opened during his high school days. He says the bột chiên here is crispier than other stalls, and he is fond of how he makes the dipping sauce.
Sắc tells Việt Nam News that back in the day he and his friends wanted to do something to earn income and eventually decided on bột chiên because of how relatively simple it was to make.
It wasn't easy starting out. In the first two years, they incurred losses, and then finally began making a profit from the third year onward.
“We pretty much taught each other. We didn't really learn from anyone else,” Sắc says.
With years of experience, he can deep-fry the cakes with ease, making them softer or crispier according to customers' orders.
Customers eat on plastic tables and chairs set up along the pavement – a characteristic scene found at many bột chiên stalls in the city.
At Bột Chiên 51 restaurant in Bình Thạnh District, the scene is crowded, with more customers dining in and getting takeaways.
Trương Huỳnh Khắc Phương, who has operated the restaurant for about 13 years, says that he once had problems with his job, so one day he tried selling bột chiên, using his experience as a cook. He became successful and has been doing it ever since.
“Other store’s frying pans are shallow, but my pan is a lot deeper, like the ones used to deep-fry chicken. Back then, customers used to like lightly fry cakes, but now they want deep-fried cakes like these,” he says as he swiftly uses spatulas and utensils to make plates of bột chiên.
The restaurant typically uses 600-700 eggs daily, and Phương can make up to 30 portions in 15 minutes with ease.
Nhã Thư, a fifth grader, says that her classmates sometimes buy bột chiên from Phương. Its tastiness and affordable prices, which are usually no more than VNĐ30,000, are among the reasons why bột chiên is beloved by many, she says.
“Making a good dish and getting compliments from customers really motivates me. This used to be just a way to earn a living, but now it is more like a hobby,” says Phương. — VNS
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