When you’re a kid, you never realize how good you have it. I sure as heck didn’t.
Growing up in the mid-West, my mom somehow pulled together “Western” items with whatever “Asian ingredients” she could find to create delicious Vietnamese specialties. When necessity meets ingenuity…..it’s just what she did.
So when I look back and think how she was able to make Bánh Cuốn in our kitchen in Minnesota, I am pretty darn dumbfounded. It definitely makes me think twice next time I curse the fact that I only have course kosher salt on hand and not fine kosher salt. 🙂
If you’ve never had them before, Bánh Cuốn is a dish originating from northern Việt Nam. Essentially, they are steamed “crepes” made from rice flour and are filled with a savory ground pork and wood ear mushroom mixture. You can also find them with finely minced dried prawns or without any filling at all–though the latter is technically called bánh ướt. Bánh Cuốn are typically served with chả lụa (Vietnamese “ham”), bean sprouts, cucumbers, fried shallots, fresh herbs and nước chấm (dipping sauce).
You can judge the quality of Bánh Cuốn by how thin the “crepes” are. They should be extremely thin—practically see through. For all you bread makers out there, think of “window pane” thin.
One of the reasons why I love Bánh Cuốn so much is that I believe it truly exemplifies what makes Vietnamese cuisine so darn delicious. It’s a wonderful interplay between texture (soft crepes to the crispiness of the shallots and veggies), bright herbaceous notes from the mint and herbs, and complimentary sweet-salty-spicy tones from the nước chấm.
YUM. My mouth is watering just thinking of it!
And in this gal’s opinion, the BEST place to get Bánh Cuốn outside of Việt Nam is in Santa Ana, California from Phở Tàu Bay L.T.T.
I know what you’re thinking. The BEST place to get Bánh Cuốn is from a Phở place?! And I unequivocal say—HECK YES!
My mom first took us to Phở Tàu Bay L.T.T. years ago and since then, I cannot eat Bánh Cuốn anywhere else. Many restaurants these days purchase their Bánh Cuốn already made—or they make them in advance. BOO on that! But Phở Tàu Bay L.T.T. pours/steams them to order. Sure, it makes your wait a little longer (especially since they’re usually PACKED) but trust me….it is so worth it.
A little while ago, we were at lunch with my sister and nieces at Phở Tàu Bay L.T.T. when I whipped out my camera to snap pictures of my beautiful plate of Bánh Cuốn Đặc Biệt – the house specialty. The next thing I knew it, my sister had convinced the staff to let me into their back kitchen to take photos of them making them! I grabbed my camera and rushed back with my sister before they had the chance to change their minds.
I slowly entered the small kitchen with utter eagerness and glee. The first thing I saw was a woman hand peeling buckets and buckets of fresh shallots to be fried. And there were a TON of shallots! No jarred stuff here–no wonder why it’s so good! I gave a silent “Thank Buddha!” for this woman because without those shallots, their Bánh Cuốn would be naked.
The Bánh Cuốn station was staffed by two aunties who moved quick as lighting! As a result, a lot of my photos were blurry because I could barely keep up with them. And let’s be honest, I was in no position to say “can you do that again??” Just more incentive to learn how to take better photos 🙂
On the top left you’ll see the steamer that is outfitted with an extremely fine mesh. This is the most important “tool” in creating Bánh Cuốn. An extremely thin layer of rice flour batter is poured and spread on top of the mesh (top right). Seconds later (bottom left), the auntie used a wooden stick to peel off the “crepe” and places it on the rolling station (bottom right).
The auntie then quickly fills the Bánh Cuốn with the pork/wood ear mushroom mixture (top right) and then delicately rolls them up. She literally had an entire plate done within two or three minutes! Who knows….it may be her Super Hero power.
VOILA! A beautiful plate of Bánh Cuốn Đặc Biệt. And this plate will only set you back 6 Bucks! Worth every penny!
To enjoy the dish, take a little bit of everything into a small bowl. Make sure to get some veggies/herbs, fried shallots, and Thịt Chà Bông (“cotton meat”—it tastes so much better than it sounds!) along with the Bánh Cuốn. Pour some nước chấm and ớt (chili) over it and chow down!
My beverage of choice when I inhale (and I mean INHALE) a plate of Bánh Cuốn is a tall glass of Soda Chanh— a sugary, carbonated, limeade. MMM…so refreshing! Watch out for an upcoming post on my “adult” version of a Soda Chanh 🙂
And in case you missed it or your mouth isn’t watering enough yet, here’s another pic to get your tummy growling. 🙂
So the next time you’re in Orange County and are looking for some authentic and delicious Vietnamese cuisine—you MUST stop by Phở Tàu Bay L.T.T. to grab yourself a few plates of Bánh Cuốn. Heck—don’t wait, DRIVE there! You will not regret it. And in case you’re wondering, their Phở is darn tasty, too.
UGH….now I need to go and get me some! 🙂
A HUGE Cảm ơn to the staff of Phở Tàu Bay L.T.T. for allowing me to see “where the magic happens“. And truly, their Bánh Cuốn is a magical thing.
Phở Tàu Bay L.T.T.
3610 West 1st Street
Santa Ana, CA 92703
Tue-Sat 8 am – 8 pm, Sun 8 am – 4 pm (Closed on Mondays)