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.
Banh Cuon Vietnamese Steamed Rice Rolls
- 1 bag of rice flour (16 oz)
- 1 bag of tapioca flour (14 oz)
- 1 ts salt
- 3 qt of water
- 1 lb ground pork
- 1 cup Wood Ear mushrooms (soaked and drained and chopped into small pieces)
- 1 medium onion
- 1 shallot, thinly diced
- 1 tbs fish sauce
- fresh cracked pepper
- Vietnamese ham, Cha Lua
- Fried Shallots
- Bean Sprouts (steamed-microwave covered for about a minute)
- Cucumber (thinly juliened)
- Nuoc mam cham
- Cooking oil, brush, large tray
In a large mixing bowl, combine the rice and tapioca flour with water and salt. Mix well.
Steam up the beansprouts in the microwave, and slice up the cha lua, and julien the cucumbers
Then make the filling. In a pan on medium high heat, add a small bit of cooking oil and fry the shallots. When shallots begin to turn yellow, add the ground pork and onions. Stir frequently and season with fish sauce. Mixture is done when the pork is no longer pink. Drain any excess liquid/fat and season with pepper and additional fish sauce or salt to taste. Set aside.
Similar to the banh xeo (sizzling rice crepes), have everything ready to go and within reach–batter, filling, a working station (mom uses a large round aluminum tray–brushed lightly with oil), bowl of oil (any neutral oil) and a brush.
Heat up a large nonstick pan to medium high heat. Brush on a very light layer of oil and ladle on the well mixed batter and immediately tilt and swirl the pan around to evenly coat the pan. You’ll have to use your judgement on the quantity according to how large your pan/ladle is. Cover for about 30 seconds and the crepe should be nearly transparent. Then invert the pan to your large aluminum work tray that has been lightly brushed with oil.
Add a small amount of filling into the center of the crepe and spread it out thinly. Then fold over the sides and place in a serving tray. You can make many banh cuon and stack them on top of one another and it won’t stick due to the very lightly oiled surface that you’re working on. Repeat again and again.
To make the banh cuon Thanh Tri, the process is exactly the same, except of the meat filling add some fried onions in the center.
Banh Cuon Thanh Tri
Banh cuon is our favorite dish when we want to eat something light and flavorful. While the traditional method my mom uses may not be practical for all, it’s a skill we admired and marveled. But try it with the nonstick pan method and enjoy this great Vietnamese delicacy!