When I was little, my parents and I used to go to this restaurant in LA called Nem Neuong Ninh Hoa. It was one of my favorite Vietnamese places because they always served very authentic Vietnamese cuisine, something I don’t get much of nowadays. Every dish they have is from a family recipe. We always had a few go-tos that we ordered – Nem Nuong, Bun Bo Hue, and this appetizer Banh Beo.
What is banh beo?
Banh beo is a Vietnamese appetizer that originates from Hue, a city in central Vietnam, where it is a popular street food. It is characterized by a rice cake steamed in a small dish, topped with fried shrimp and scallion oil, and eaten with a drizzle of Vietnamese dipping sauce. The rice cake is made from a few simple ingredients: rice flour, tapioca flour, salt, and water. While popular in Vietnam, it is actually pretty difficult to find here in the US. I’ve only seen it at a handful of restaurants in both LA and SF. I imagine part of the reason it’s so difficult to find is that it’s not that popular of a dish here in the West and it can be labor intensive to make.
How do you eat this dish?
Eating this dish is a bit of a ritual. A large tray of 12-15 are placed in the center of the table where people grab them from the pile. To eat it properly, spoon a small amount of nuoc cham over it and eat everything together. After finishing each one, we would then stack the empty dishes on top of each other. As a kid, I always liked to see who had the largest pile. I was a bit of a glutton so it was me most of the time. 🙂
My experience making banh beo
This was a dish I have to admit I was scared to make. I never steamed before and most Vietnamese dishes go awry the first time I try them. This was no different. I accidentally bought glutinous rice flour instead of regular rice flour, so my banh beo was squishy for my first attempt. I went back to the store, got the correct rice flour, and tried again. They turned out great the second time!
One thing I discovered that really helped me was leaving the lid open slightly to let out some steam. This prevents the batter from boiling over.
- 2 cups rice flour
- 2 tbsp tapioca flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 cups water
- 2 tsp vegetable oil
- ½ cup dried shrimp
- 2 stalks green onions
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- ½ cup Vietnamese dipping sauce search "nuoc cham" for recipe
- Batter: Combine rice flour, tapioca flour, and salt in a large bowl and mix. Add in the water and vegetable oil and stir well. Set aside
- Fried Shrimp: Soak dried shrimp for at least 10 minutes. Pat dry and put in a food processor. Pulse until shrimp is very fine. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil. You can tell it's hot enough if you drop in a little water and it starts sizzling. Add in your shrimp and cook for 3-5 minutes. Pour out the pan over a fine mesh sieve to separate the oil from the shrimp bits. Dump the shrimp on a baking sheet with paper towels to soak up all the oil. Set aside.
- Scallion Oil: In a small sauce pan, heat up 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil on medium high. Add sliced green onions and cook for about 1-2 minutes or until translucent. Set aside.
- Making the Banh Beo: Get your steamer ready. Boil water and put in your steamer insert. Fill small 3 inch dishes (dipping dishes work well) 3/4 of the way with the batter. Steam for 5 minutes until the rice cakes set. Leave the lid slightly open to let out steam and prevent the batter from boiling over. After taking them out from the steamer, let them cool for about 5-10 minutes before serving.
- Putting it all together: Put some of the fried shrimp and scallion oil on top of the rice cake and serve! Eat the Banh Beo by spooning a small amount of ngoc cham over each rice cake and enjoy!