I've been reading a Saigon food blog called NoodlePie these past few weeks, and because of it I am finally learning the names of some of the dishes that Nam and the T Girls have introduced me to.
Evidently, this one to the left is called Banh Cuon, and it's a northern dish from Hanoi. A different version of this is what Nam and I get on the way to school sometimes, the "#1 breakfast." Nam's is just plain rolled rice film with no filling, but at Stand 1006 in the Ben Thanh market, it is filled with a mixture of minced pork, mushrooms and prawns. Both come served with sliced Vietnamese "Spam," sliced cucumber, beansprouts, deep-fried shallots and chopped mint with a nuoc mam (fish sauce) dip. Every once in a while, Nam will show up with this version (same filling) but it requires a special trip to another neighborhood. You really hardly see it on the street, and my colleagues are always quite jealous when I come into school with it; many of them have never seen it before.
Here is a picture I am stealing from Noodle Pie - his close-up is a lot better than mine (I hope he doesn't mind):
The blogger of Noodle Pie made an impossible yet admirable goal of eating at all of the food stalls at the Ben Thanh Market. Funny, but it had never occurred to me to try them...even though I am so enamoured with the food stalls in Mexican markets, I just figured this market was filled with substandard tourist food. I was wrong. I tried his recommendation, and this bahn cuon is delicious. It is a lot more expensive here...Nam's is only 10,000, this one is 25,000 (60 cents compared with about $1.50), but the filling is extra tasty and, therefore, worth it.
Here's kind of how it's made:
She takes a ladle full of rice flour mixed with water and spreads it across the skillet of a steamer and covers it for about 30 seconds. Then she takes a wooden stick and removes a layer of film, sets it on the silver tray, cuts it, stuffs it, and rolls it. It's tricky. If you try this at home, I'm certain it will only lead to frustration and a mess that will make you cry.
My frustration, now, is that I, too, must also make it my goal to eat at every food stall in the Ben Thanh Market. I think there are at least 50 of them.