Steamed Rice Cakes (Banh Beo) with Pork Sauce:
Meet Le Thi Dong or just Dong Le for short. I first met Dong Le when my friend Mai invited me to join her for dinner at Dong Le’s restaurant called “Quán Nhớ – Hương vị miền Trung,” right off of Phan Xich Long street in Ho Chi Minh City.
When I first arrived I looked over the menu, but of course it was in Vietnamese. As a result, I let Mai order for the both of us. Mai ordered two dishes and one was Steamed Rice Cakes (Banh Beo) with Pork Sauce (Vietnamese name of dish: Banh Beo Duc Pho), served with Nuoc Cham (Vietnamese fish sauce).
I soon learned Banh is a general term used for a myriad of food related items. It can refer to a wide variety of sweet or savory cakes, buns, pastries, sandwiches, which can be prepared by steaming, baking, frying, deep-frying, or boiling. So “Banh Beo” is steamed rice cake, which makes the base for this recipe and “Duc Pho” is a district in the Province of Quảng Ngãi (see map below).
Steamed Rice Cakes (Banh Beo) with Pork Sauce (Vietnamese name of dish: Banh Beo Duc Pho) was served to us on a round bamboo serving tray, which included about 6-8 small bowls and a side of Nuoc Cham (Vietnamese fish sauce).
The Nuoc Cham is used as a condiment, which you put on top of each Steamed Rice Cakes (Banh Beo) with Pork Sauce, right before eating. The topping of pork, green onions, sugar and various ingredients noted in the recipe has a consistency of a gravy, but taste nothing like it.
I actually can’t compare it to anything I have had in the past. However, when combined with the rice cake it makes for an interesting (in a good way) and unique combination of flavors. This dish actually derives from the South Central Coast of Vietnam, as Dong Le is from Quảng Ngãi (see map below).
After quickly eating about 3-4 small bowls of Steamed Rice Cakes (Banh Beo) with Pork Sauce, I asked Mai if she thought Dong Le might be willing to teach us this particular dish. Mai didn’t know Dong Le, she had only dined at her restaurant on a couple of occasions before. But, given I was so excited about the dish she asked Dong Le if she would be free to teach us Steamed Rice Cakes (Banh Beo) with Pork Sauce. Luck was with us and Dong Le happily agreed, so we set a date and time.
About Dong Le, she is thirty, not married and as mentioned she is from the South Central region of Vietnam. She initially Studied Graphic Design, but decided she wanted to open up her own restaurant, she is a self-taught cook. She made all the tables and chairs in the restaurant herself (she is very proud of them – they look great), which are made from pallets and took about a month to make by hand.
Dong Le has owned the restaurant for 2 years and she said she will NEVER give it up. She started the restaurant with only five thousand dollars. Dong Le’s favorite food is “Mì Quảng,” which has rice noodles colored with turmeric, meat/shrimp/fish, vegetables and broth.
Dong Le was a patient teacher, a lot of translation and photography was happening during the class. The most time consuming part of the recipe derives from waiting for the rice cake batter to sit for several hours. However, during our class it only rested for about 10 minutes. The rice cakes tasted just like the ones we ordered, so I think 10 minutes was sufficient, but I am not a rice cake aficionado.
The topping or sauce has a red tint to it, which I was not clear on what the ingredient was. I asked Dong Le and Mai translated “cashew oil.” Just by looking at it, I knew it definitely was not cashew oil, so I asked Dong Le to show me the actual dry ingredient in its whole form.
I immediately recognized the ingredient, which was achiote. I often use achiote for some Latin American dishes. Dong Le made oil from the seeds of the achiote tree.
The class was very informative and a great introduction to the cuisine from the central part of Vietnam, which I have yet to visit (It is on the itinerary).
I would definitely put Steamed Rice Cakes (Banh Beo) with Pork Sauce in my top 5 favorite Vietnamese dishes (on this date at this time, ha). I can’t wait to have the opportunity to make it on my own. I now have the recipe, albeit scribbled furiously on my notepad while cooking, while words were translated from Vietnamese to English, while photographing, while laughing and while we sat down together to partake in our newly learned recipe. All and all it was one of my favorite cooking experiences during this trip. Thanks so much Dong Le for making the time, sharing your recipe and your story with us.
If you are ever in Ho Chi Minh, I suggest a visit to Dong Le’s restaurant “Quán Nhớ – Hương vị miền Trung,” right off of Phan Xich Long street and definitely order the Steamed Rice Cakes (Banh Beo) with Pork Sauce. However, If you can’t make it to Ho Chi Minh, here is the recipe from all my scribblings from that day, enjoy.
- Rice Cake Batter
- 1 cup rice flour
- 3 tablespoons tapioca starch
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1½ tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
- 1¾ cups water
- Achiote Oil
- 1 cup oil
- 2½ tablespoons achiote (annatto) seeds
- Nuoc Cham (fish sauce)
- ¼ teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoons sugar
- 2 ½ tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 ½ tablespoons lime juice
- 1 or 2 red or green chiles, thinly sliced
- Pork Topping/Sauce
- ½ pound pork shoulder
- 1 cup water, or enough to cover pork
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons shallots
- ½ teaspoon garlic, finely chopped
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- ½ cup green onions, white and green parts separated
- ½ teaspoon achiote oil
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 tablespoon tapioca starch
- ¼-1/2 cup reserved cooking water from pork
- Rice Cake Batter
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the rice flour, tapioca starch and water. Stir well and allow the mixture to rest for 1 hour. Add salt and oil. Stack small bowls in a steamer, cover with lid and steam the empty bowls for 2 minutes. Pour the batter into each bowl, until about ¾ full and steam for 4 minutes.
- Take out and allow them to cool. Each cake should have a "dimple". Stir the batter once in a while. Repeat until the batter is finished. Set rice cakes aside.
- Heat the oil and seeds in a small saucepan over medium heat, until the seeds begin to bubble.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and let stand for about a minute, being careful not to overcook the seeds. If the oil turns green you have overcooked the seeds. Discard and begin again. Strain the oil and discard the seeds. Set Aside.
- Nuoc Cham
- Combine the fish sauce and sugar, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the lime juice, garlic and chiles. Set Aside.
- Pork Topping/Sauce
- Place the pork shoulder into Dutch oven or non-stick skillet. Fill with water about one to two inches above the pork shoulder, add ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil over high heat; boil pork for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and reserve pork water.
- Chop the partially cooked pork shoulder into small pieces (until minced). In a bowl, combine white part of green onion, shallots, garlic, sugar, ½ teaspoon salt, pepper, ¼ teaspoon achiote oil and minced pork. Marinate for 10 minutes.
- In a non-stick skillet over medium, add the oil and minced pork marinade. Brown the pork, sprinkle the tapioca starch over the pork, stirring constantly. Increase heat to medium high and slowly add the water from the reserved pork water, stirring constantly, until the mixture is smooth. Add remaining achiote oil.
- Cook, continuing to stir, until it has thickened, approximately 8 to 10 minutes or until a gravy consistency. Add green onions. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Serve the savory steamed rice cakes with the pork topping, green onions and Nuoc Cham (fish sauce).
2. The pork topping can be made a day in advance. Just reheat and top the rice cakes with it.
3. Nuoc Cham (fish sauce) can be made a day in advance. This is an optional ingredient, but taste great with it.
4. Rice flour and tapioca starch can be purchased from any Asian Supermarket or you can substitute corn starch for tapioca starch, as both are used as a thickening agent.
5. If you do not want to make the rice cakes, I suggest serving the topping/sauce with rice noodles or maybe on a baguette.