Three popular, easy-to-find, yet equally delicious dishes in Vietnam have just been shortlisted as “the world’s best sandwiches”, “the world’s tastiest dumplings”, and “the best fried foods around the world” by US news site CNN.
|The Vietnamese specialty: the sweet variant of banh ran or banh cam. Photo: Quynh Nhi|
Banh ran (as it is called in the North of Vietnam) or banh cam (in the South), is a familiar deep-fried sticky rice dessert that can be found at any market in the country.
According to CNN Travel, though the name translates to “orange cake”, there’s no orange flavor in these deep-fried glutinous rice balls. “Instead, these southern Vietnamese sweets are named for their visual resemblance to an orange,” it stated.
Traditionally, banh ran is divided into two categories: “the sweet” and “the saltine” ones. The sweet pastry is filled with sweetened mung bean paste and fresh coconut slices. Meanwhile the filling of the saltine variant, which is mainly found in the Northern region of Vietnam, consists of minced pork, wood-ear mushroom, dry vermicelli, carrot, salt and pepper.
In order to cook this specialty, Vietnamese cookers prepare some outer shell that is made from tender glutinous rice flour, they then stuffed them with sweet or salted pastes and then rolled in sesame seeds and fried.
|The banh ran man or the saltine variant of banh ran or banh cam can be easily found in Hanoi. Photo: Mai Phuong|
Traditionally, the filling should be separated from the shell so that if one shakes the banh ran, one can feel the filling rattle against the inside of the shell.
The sweet banh ran can be eaten on its own as a dessert while its saltine one is considered a supper dish and should be eaten accompanied with sweet and sour fish sauce with sliced radish or papaya.
For Anthony Noland, an Australian expat in Hanoi, banh ran is the most delicious winter snack. “I love the feeling of biting into a hot deep-fried glutinous rice ball. The crust is crispy while the sweet filling is melting in my mouth,” he told The Hanoi Times.
Among CNN’s list of “23 of the world’s best sandwiches”, Vietnamese banh mi ranked fourth.
According to Terry Ward, staff writer from CNN, being a culinary remnant of French colonialism, the baguette sandwich is reinterpreted to their own taste by the Vietnamese.
Banh mi are now sold from food carts on nearly every street corner in big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and across Vietnam and are widely loved well beyond the country's borders.
|A delicious Hanoi-styled Banh mi pate. Photo: Nhat Linh|
“The classic version is pork-based, starring cha lua or Vietnamese-style pork roll, shredded pickled carrots, pickled daikon, cilantro leaves, mayonnaise and other ingredients. You can find variations with tofu and thinly sliced lemongrass chicken, too. The taste is crunchy, fresh, savory and utterly delicious,” he wrote.
For Anthony Bourdain, late American celebrity chef, the central town of Hoi An in Quang Nam Province is home to the “best banh mi in the world”. He even described the Banh Mi Phuong (the banh mi that is prepared by Madam Phuong) as the “symphony in a sandwich” when he was in town filming an episode of his travel show No Reservations in 2005.
Different from other banh mi, the bread of Banh Mi Phuong is absolutely divine; crispy, crunchy yet light and airy while the stuffing is fresh and gorgeous.
A loaf of Phuong bread consists of thinly sliced grilled pork loin, Vietnamese sausages, fatty liver pate, special sauce with herbs, coriander, sweet and sour cucumber, and home-made sauces.
There is a variety of Banh mi Phuong’s stuffing on offer, including the Banh mi thap cam or a banh mi with everything alongside several other tasty options, the garlic banh mi and a tasty puffed tofu vegetarian option. The cheap-eat dishes are priced less than one US dollar for one portion.
Banh bot loc
|Banh loc tran or boiled tapioca dumplings. Photo: Xuan Mo|
Dumpling- in its most basic sense, it’s a pocket of dough filled with some form of savory or sweet stuffing, according to CNN Travel.
“And the easy ideas are surely the best because dumplings are a popular food across the globe: both simple and complex, local and global, adaptable yet fixed in their home regions as cheap, tasty staples to snack on,” it wrote.
Together with the famous Xiaolongbao from China, the Ravioli from Italy and Manti of Turkey, Vietnamese banh bot loc is among the list of “30 world’s tastiest dumplings” by the US News site.
Banh bot loc are Vietnamese pork and shrimp dumplings, with wrappers made from tapioca flour. When cooked, tapioca flour becomes clear, giving the dumpling its appearance and the wrapper its chewy texture. There are two major variants: wrapped in banana leaves and steamed, or boiled.
|The other variant of banh bot loc - The wrapped tapioca dumplings in banana leaves. Photo: Hang Ngo|
Originated from Hue city in the central region of Vietnam, the tapioca dumplings can be eaten as appetizers or small snacks. Although it is recognized by most parts of the world as a Vietnamese specialty, many people still find banh bot loc too tough to chew.
It is also too tough to make: the gluey texture requires fingers strongly knotted to pinch its lumpen whiteness into shape, according to Chau Giang Giang, a chef of Hue’s specialty in Hanoi.
“My family originated from Hue so I grew up eating a lot of banh bot loc. This recipe is relatively easy but forming the dumpling does take some practice. The boiled dumplings are worth the effort since the dish is so tasty that any traveler should try it when visiting the former Imperial city,” she told The Hanoi Times.