Banh Beo are steamed savory rice cakes. Banh is cake in Vietnamese and Beo is the delicate white flower of a water fern that the steamed rice cake resembles. Locals in Vietnam usually graze all day, and Banh Beo can be one of many small meals that they eat. You will find Banh Beo made by many street vendors in Vietnam, but the best ones are the vendors who solely make this dish, who have been making it for many years, and who make you sit on small plastic stools that threaten to break at any given moment.
To traditionally prepare Banh Beo, rice batter is poured into small white ceramic saucers then steamed for about 10 minutes. The delicate rice cakes are topped with dried shrimp, crispy pork fat and scallion oil. A hearty variation includes mung bean paste. For one person, you are served with multiple white ceramic plates of steamed rice cakes and a side of fish-sauce dipping sauce. If you're lucky, you also get a side of fresh Vietnamese herbs and vegetables.
There are two versions of this popular dish from Central Vietnam. The dry version, Banh Beo Hue, and the wet version, Banh Beo Quang Nam/Banh Beo Nhan Uot. The dry version is the one I'm most familiar with. Its savory toppings are made separately and added individually to the rice cakes. Whereas, the wet version cooks up the filling in a thick broth that gets ladled onto the rice cakes.
However you have it, wet or dry, it's a tasty dish that you can enjoy anytime of day (a true Vietnamese would have Banh Beo for breakfast). The only down side to enjoying this dish is all the white ceramic plates that you need to wash afterwards, but hey, that's what husbands and children are for!
Vietnamese Steamed Savory Rice Cakes Recipe (Banh Beo)
Banh Beo Batter
2 cups rice flour
2 tablespoons tapioca flour
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups water
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
Fried pork fat (Tep Mo)
1 cup dried salted shrimp (soak for 30 minutes)
1/2 cup dried split mung bean (soak overnight)
1 bunch green onions (slice thin) plus 1/3 cup vegetable oil (Mo Hanh)
Fish-Sauce Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Mam Cham)
1/2 cup hot water
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1-2 fresh red chili peppers (slice thin)
Banh Beo Batter
Whisk together rice flour, tapioca flour and salt until combined.
Add water and vegetable oil to the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Set aside.
If you can find pork fat from your butcher, slice them up into small cubes and place them in a pan on medium high heat to render the fat. Continue to render the fat until you get crispy pork fat. Transfer them to a plate lined with paper towels to remove excess oil. Any leftover fried pork fat can be kept for months in the fridge. If no pork fat is available, try getting pork belly with a food amount of fat on them. Remove skin and cut off pork fat from the slab of pork belly. Alternatively, you can use ground up store-bought pork rinds or simply toast up bread crumbs for a healthier alternative.
Drain the water from the shrimp and rinse thoroughly. Pat dry with paper towels. Chop shrimp finely in a food processor. You want the texture to be fluffy like moss or floss. In a small skillet, heat up about 2 tablespoons oil (if you have pork fat, use it instead of vegetable oil). Add the finely chopped shrimp and fry until fragrant and completely dry (about 5 minutes). Set aside.
Drain the water from the mung bean and rinse a couple of times until water runs clear. Add mung bean to a small pot and add just enough water to cover. Cook without lid on medium low until soft. Remove from heat and transfer to a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth. Set aside.
In a small sauce pan, heat up vegetable oil on medium high. Add sliced green onions and cook for about 2-3 minutes or until completely wilted. Set aside.
Fish-Sauce Dipping Sauce
In a small bowl, mix together hot water and sugar until fully dissolved.
Add fish sauce, vinegar and chili peppers to the sugar mixture. Set aside.
Putting It All Together
Get your steamer ready.
Arrange your saucers in the steamer then ladle each saucer 3/4 full with batter.
Cover steamer with a lid but allow a small opening for some steam to escape. Without a small opening, the batter will overflow (no bueno).
Steam for about 10 minutes. After the rice cakes are set, spread mung bean paste with the back of a spoon, sprinkle on dried shrimp and lightly drizzle scallion oil on each rice cake. Serve with the fish-sauce dipping sauce and enjoy.