Thursday, December 08, 2016

Banh cuon Bac | 40 Le Anh Xuan

As I child, one of my favourite breakfasts was banh cuon (thin rice rolls with minced pork). On cold winter mornings, I'd sit on the pavement where the vendor sold their specialty, and order my favorite combination - bánh cuốn chả (banh cuon with fried pork balls). The rice rolls were usually made fresh at their house nearby. They then served it with hot fish sauce (nuoc mam) broth, which was made by mixing pure thick nuoc mam with bone broth to create a subtle yet rich flavor. I always liked to squeeze in a kumquat's juice, add garlic vinegar, and slurp the broth down after finishing my banh cuon.

As I moved to Saigon, the Northern-style banh cuon gradually became a childhood memory; I grew accustomed to the Southern style with sweeter nuoc mam, bean sprouts and herbs on the side. Occasionally I'd have my relatives bring me some banh cuon straight from my hometown; but the setting is just not the same.

I was delighted to discover this place, nestled on a small street between two main busy roads in central Saigon. The place is humble, as with many good food gems in Vietnam - they taste better than in fancy restaurants. I immediately felt a familiar connection as the owners and staff chatted in their thick, slightly high-pitched Northern accent. And when they served their banh cuon, with hot nuoc mam broth, my heart sang a little with joy. Needless to say, I slurped the broth - which was of course happily flavored with kumquat juice and garlic vinegar - down to its last drop.