Meet Nguyen Thi Hien she is a one of the countless street food vendors in Ho Chi Minh City, she sells “Banh Trang Nuong.” Which if you ask anyone to describe it, they will call it “Vietnamese Pizza.” Seems only fitting I stumbled upon a Vietnamese version of Pizza on my first day, considering Pizza is my all-time favorite food.
I first saw Nguyen Thi Hien while I was traversing the crowded streets of “Phan Xich Long” on the morning of my first day In Ho Chi Minh City. The street is named after a boy who claimed to be the Emperor of Vietnam and is in an area of Ho Chi Minh City known for numerous coffee shops and cheap eats. It is not a tourist area, but rather an area where the local Vietnamese twenty-somethings hangout.
As I was familiarizing myself with the area, I saw Nguyen Thi Hien and her motorbike on the corner of Phan Xich Long in front of a construction site. At first, I only glanced at her, as I was on sensory overload and taking in all the unfamiliar sights and sounds. I then stopped a moment to see what she was making on her makeshift “food motorbike,” which had a BBQ and an array of ingredients on it. But, then continued down the street.
However, about 5o-feet later, curiosity got the better of me and I went back. I watched her make the Banh Trang Nuong, which consisted of a charcoal BBQ, a sheet of rice paper, dried pork, dried shrimp, a quail egg, butter, roughly chopped green onions and cream cheese.
She sequentially layered each ingredient on top of the rice paper and evenly spread it around and proceeded to BBQ the rice paper, until the ingredients where bubbling, the rice paper turned slightly brownish and was crispy. She then folded it in half and handed it to me.
Banh Trang Nuong had me at “first bite,” It had layers of flavors and texture. Salty from the dried pork and shrimp, a little spicy from the green onions, sweet from the butter, creamy from the quail egg and cheese and crunchy from the slightly toasted rice paper. It really was love at “first bite,” so much, I promptly ordered two more.
After I had finished my additional two Banh Trang Nuong an idea came to me, I wanted to learn to make it and I wanted her to teach me. That night, I called Mai and told her of my idea, but it wasn’t until about five days later that Mai had the opportunity to ask her (Nguyen Thi Hien only speaks Vietnamese), as I could not locate Nguyen Thi Hien all week.
Finally, she appeared at the same location I first encountered her, five days later. Apparently, Nguyen Thi Hien has a “circuit” she does, Friday-Sunday she sells on Phan Xich Long street and Monday through Thursday she sells in district 1 in Ho Chi Minh City.
Nguyen Thi Hien was a little shy at first, but was willing to show Mai and me her “pizza” making skills on her motorbike. As you see from the photos we had a great time, smiles the whole time. We even sold a few to her regular patrons, which happen to be many Vietnamese students learning English from the school Nguyen Thi Hien sells the Banh Trang Nuong in front of. They were of course curious as to why a foreigner was selling their favorite snack in front of their school.
A little about Nguyen Thi Hien: she is married and coincidentally (or not) her husband also sells Banh Trang Nuong. She has been selling Banh Trang Nuong for about 4-5 years, she has three children and her favorite food (believe or not) is Banh Trang Nuong. So, if you are ever in the neighborhood of Phan Xich Long in Ho Chi Minh City, I definitely recommend Banh Trang Nuong from Nguyen Thi Hien and I promise you won’t be able to eat just one.
However, if you can’t make it to Ho Chi Minh City for this Vietnamese snack, I will provide the recipe for you here. A few suggestions, if you do not have a BBQ, but do have a gas range, follow the directions, but cook the rice paper directly on top of your gas burner. If you don’t have a gas range, pan fry in a pan with a little butter. Rice paper sheets can be found in any supermarket. For the dried pork, I substituted sausage in this recipe, however I will edit with the dried pork instructions (once I post my next recipe). The sausage is a great alternative. Now I give you “Vietnamese Pizza,’ Banh Trang Nuong.
- Soak the dried small shrimp in cold water for 15 minutes. Drain, rinse and chop finely. Toast in pan until dried and fragrant. Set aside.
- Chop the green onions. Set aside.
- Heat a large frying pan over medium-high, add the sausage. Cook, breaking it up into smaller pieces with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink and is starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, drain fat from sausage. Set aside.
- Assemble: Layer each ingredient on top of the rice paper, beginning with ½ teaspoon of dried shrimp, about 1 tablespoon pork, ½ teaspoon butter, ½ teaspoon green onions 1 quail egg, ½ triangle of cheese, chili sauce and evenly spread it with a spatula. BBQ/pan fry or place directly on the stove top of a gas range. Cook the rice paper until the ingredients are bubbling, the rice paper turns slightly brownish and is crispy. Fold in half and serve.