A few years ago, my husband and I traveled to Vietnam to be part of his brother's wedding party. Like most wedding parties, we were constantly on the go with the bride and groom. The day was packed full of photo shoots, formal processions and traditional tea ceremonies. There was very little time to sit down and eat. As the day wore on, and I was getting tired and hungry. When tired and hungry, I willingly admit that I'm not at my best. Either steer clear or feed me. Luckily my husband, a wise man, did the latter.
While the bride and groom were taking photos with guests, we snuck over to a nearby street vendor to replenish ourselves with Vietnamese Steamed Rice Rolls (Bánh Cuốn). I don't remember much of the wedding day, what I wore, or who I met, but I sure as hell remember the Bánh Cuốn and how wonderfully it tasted on the special day in January 2007. I immediately ate the first order of Bánh Cuốn in record time. The second order came, but all I could do was look at it longingly from afar, as we were once again beckoned back to the wedding party. My heart broke a little too that day.
Vietnamese Steamed Rice Rolls or, Bánh Cuốn, are thin sheets of steamed rice batter filled with ground pork, jicama and wood ear mushrooms. The rice rolls get a glaze of scallion oil and a sprinkle of crispy fried shallots, then served on a bed of fresh thinly sliced cucumbers, chopped lettuce, Vietnamese herbs, blanched bean sprouts and slices of Vietnamese sausage (Chả Lụa). All of this is served with a side of Vietnamese fish sauce dipping sauce (Nước Mắm Chấm).
Traditionally, the rice batter is cooked by spreading a thin layer on top of a cloth that is stretched over a water bath. It is covered with a lid and steamed to perfection. Once cooked, it's skillfully lifted off the steamer with a wooden stick. It was mesmerizing to watch them do this in Vietnam. I recorded a quick video below of a local vendor serving the best Bánh Cuốn in Biên Hòa, Vietnam.
I don't have this contraption at home just to make Vietnamese Steamed Rice Rolls. Although I contemplated buying one, stuffing it in my luggage and bringing it back to the States, it turns out you don't need this to cook Vietnamese Steamed Rice Rolls. All you really need is a good non-stick frying pan with a lid.
If you like Vietnamese foods and tired of Phở, try Bánh Cuốn. It can be a quick snack, light meal or full-on dinner. It's packed with tons of flavor and different textures. From the delicate steamed rice cakes to the crispy fried shallots, it's guaranteed to satisfy any Vietnamese-food craving. And I kid you not, this is the one Vietnamese dish where I usually find myself slurping down the sweet and spicy dipping sauce at the end of the meal. It's seriously that good.
Vietnamese Steamed Rice Rolls (Banh Cuon)
1 lb ground pork
2 teaspoons pork or chicken stock powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic (mince)
1 small onion (dice)
1 small jicama (peel then dice)
1 cup dried Wood Ear mushroom (soak in warm water for 30 minutes, drain then mince)
Marinate the ground pork with pork/chicken stock powder, salt, sugar, and pepper.
In a large pan, heat up vegetable oil on medium-high heat. Add the garlic and onion and saute until fragrant (1-2 minutes).
Add seasoned ground pork, jicama and mushroom.
Break up the chunks of ground pork with a wooden spoon. Continue cooking until pork is cooked all the way through.
If you are lucky enough to have a Vietnamese/Asian grocery store, you might be able to find the Bánh Cuốn flour mixes. They are small bags of prepared mixes. Instructions may vary but it typically includes adding water and vegetable oil. Follow the packaged instructions in the back, which are usually printed in both English and Vietnamese.
Batter from Scratch
2 cups rice flour
1 cup potato starch
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
5.5 cups water
Add everything in a medium-size bowl and stir until dissolved.
1 bag bean sprouts (steam or blanch)
Vietnamese sausage (Chả Lụa)
4-5 English cucumbers (semi-peel then julienne)
You will need a really good non-stick frying pan. This is an absolute must. No substitution. The rice flour is really delicate and sticky. Without a good non-stick pan, that delicate rice flour will stick to the pan like you won't believe. Plus, a good non-stick frying pan eliminates a lot of the oil so that we are not frying, but "steaming."
If you have two really good non-stick frying pans, then fantastic! Use them both. Having two pans really speeds up the process. You can assemble one while the other is cooking. I, unfortunately, didn't think I need two of the same pans, so when my husband bought me a two-pack of a high quality non-stick frying pan, I decided to gift the other one to my mother-in-law. Oh how I could have used that second pan.
To begin cooking, pour a little batter into the hot pan, just enough to cover the bottom. You want it as thin as possible. Again, if it's a really good non-stick pan, no oil will be needed. Cover the pan with a lid and let it steam for about one minute. Once done, slide the crepe onto an oiled plate. Add a thin layer of the pork mixture then roll it up. Slather the rice rolls with a bit of scallion oil for a nice aromatic shine, then serve with cucumbers, bean sprouts, Vietnamese pork sausage, fried shallots, and Vietnamese fish sauce dipping sauce (Nước Mắm Chấm).
Here's a very old video to give you a better idea of the process. Don't add too much pork mixture to the steamed crepes like I did in the video. It was way too much.