|Drool Worthy highlights remarkable dishes under the radar. Enjoy hover-friendly photos of peculiar bites and quick tips on what to try next in the DC metro.|
I grew up on Vietnamese cuisine. Both of my parents are Chinese, but my mom’s side of the family grew up in Vietnam. Growing up–having chicken banh mi’s for breakfast, lunch at Eden Center and pho on Fridays at my grandmothers house was such a regular thing that I eventually got pretty tired of it, and avoided it for a long time. Lately though, I’ve been craving it almost weekly… for things like banh canh tom cua (shrimp and crab udon), and a dish my mom used to make me on the weekends–steamed rice pancakes with minced shrimp, scallions and pork cracklings (banh beo).
There are two versions. The most common version you’ll see on the shelves of Vietnamese grocery stores involves the a few of the same ingredients pictured above–a steamed rice cake with minced shrimp and scallions–but with the addition of mung bean paste. I don’t like mung bean paste… 🙁 I’ll eat it, but I prefer my banh beo without the nutty yellow paste, because I like to taste more of the shrimp. The version that doesn’t involve mung beans is a recipe that’s more common in North Vietnam, and is called Imperial Bánh Bèo (Huế). This version can be found at Saigon Cafe in Falls Church.
Banh beo–which literally means ‘water fern cake’–is a Vietnamese dish that comes with little white lilly pads of rice cakes that have a small dimple at the center to hold a savory filling of minced shrimp, pork cracklings and chopped scallions. It comes with a little bowl of fish sauce, which you pour over each little rice cake and eat with a spoon. The banh beo at Saigon Cafe, however, are larger than normal (almost the size of your palm).
I normally eat banh beo with a big spoon, but the rice cakes at Saigon Cafe are so big that I like to just pick them up with my fingers and eat them the say way I’d eat a soft tortilla taco, folding it in half and squeezing the two sides together so none of the filling falls out. This probably isn’t the proper–or classiest– way to eat it! But it’s effective, and I hate when I try to gather the whole lilly pad on a tiny spoon that ends up spilling all the good stuff everywhere.
There are a few other restaurants in Eden Center that also follow the Bánh Bèo (Huế) recipe, but I love Saigon Cafe’s version, because the rice cakes are the biggest here, and each cake is topped off with house-fried pork cracklings (cubes of deep fried pork fat!) instead of the usual deep fried shallots.
Want to try and cook Bánh Bèo (Huế) at home? Here’s my grandmother’s recipe.
Saigon Cafe, 6286-B Arlington Blvd, Fairfax VA; (703) 237-1899; www.saigoncafe-va.com.