Bánh cuốn is made from a thin, wide sheet of steamed fermented rice batter filled with seasoned ground pork, minced wood ear mushroom, and minced shallots. Sides for this dish usually consist of chả lụa (Vietnamese pork sausage), sliced cucumber, and bean sprouts, with the dipping sauce called nước chấm. Sometimes, a drop of cà cuống, which is the essence of a giant water bug, Lethocerus indicus, is added to the nước chấm for extra flavor, although this ingredient is scarce and quite expensive.
The rice sheet in bánh cuốn is extremely thin and delicate. It is made by steaming a slightly fermented rice batter on a cloth which is stretched over a pot of boiling water. It is a light dish, and is generally eaten for breakfast everywhere in Vietnam. A different version of bánh cuốn, called bánh cuốn Thanh Trì and bánh cuốn làng Kênh, may be found in Thanh Trì, a southern district of Hanoi and Kênh village of Nam Định, an ancient village in the centre of Nam Định city.Bánh cuốn Thanh Trì or Bánh cuốn làng Kênh are not rolls, but just rice sheets eaten with chả lụa, fried shallots, or prawns.
Banh Cuon (Vietnamese Steamed Rice Rolls/Crepes) is the perfect holiday detox food. After the last Thanksgiving holiday back in Detroit, Michigan we needed something light, delicate, and yet flavorful to detox after our feast. So when my mom asked us what wanted to eat the weekend after thanksgiving dinner, we immediately requested some banh cuon. Banh cuon is a very light crepe often with ground pork, minced wood ear mushroom, and onions and eaten with Vietnamese ham (cha lua), steamed beansprouts, and cucumbers. Another variation arising from a village in Northern Vietnam famous for their banh cuon is called banh cuon “Thanh Tri” a style where the crepe is not rolled but kept in sheets without any filling, and sprinkled with fried onions.
Vietnamese banh cuon is different from the rice rolls found at Chinese dim sum, cheong fun, because the banh cuon crepe is extremely thin and delicate and not topped with sweet soy sauce. The reason for this thinness is the process of how it’s made. Banh cuon can be made extremely thin because it’s steamed over a fabric covered pot which can quickly cook the rice flour, keeping it moist and workable. My mom bought these pots that are specially outfitted with a metal ring where a fine nylon/cotton cloth is tautly stretched across and placed on top of the pot. A very thin layer of batter is poured on to the cloth and evenly spread and steams paper thin, and in less than a minute, a flat and flexible bamboo stick is used to lift off the delicate rice crepe.
This is my mom with the freshly steamed banh cuon. See how extremely thin and translucent the steamed rice roll is? We both tried our hands on lifting off the crepe from the steamer and messed up a few, but after a while, with plenty of practice we were able to do it. Occasionally, when some of her friends have parties, they ask my mom to cater this dish and my mom would have 2 pots steaming the banh cuon at once working at an amazingly efficient and brisk pace that comes with years of experience. One time, my mom and her bestfriend had 5 steaming pots at the same time!
This recipe is written for making banh cuon with a nonstick pan since we realize that it’s not practical to make this with the specialized pot and fabric which she brought back from Vietnam (although we’ve actually seen these pots occasionally in Chinatown in LA). It won’t be as thin as steaming it on fabric, but the result will still be satisfactory, and we hope satisfying.
Bánh Cuốn is served with chả lụa (Vietnamese pork sausage), sliced cucumber, bean sprouts, and nước chấm.
Bánh Cuốn is delicious.