There is no fish sauce to dip the roll, only a brown mixture that you won’t find anywhere else.
Although banh cuon (steamed rice paper roll) is not a local dish, it is a favorite of many Hanoians.
In the quiet of the early morning, many people in the capital prefer to sit on the side of the road, enjoying soft, tasty banh cuon and watching the warm steam coming from the cooking pots.
The soul of this dish lies in the rice paper wrap made from rice flour. People still use the traditional manual grinding method to make the rice flour since it produces the best flour for making the paper thin and soft but tough enough not to tear easily when rolled.
One banh cuon restaurant is Ms Phuong’s, hidden at the intersection of Hang Cot and Hang Ma streets. Her family used to run a popular noodles soup restaurant in the old quarter. At the end of the 1970s Phuong changed to selling banh cuon made using her mother’s recipe.
In the beginning the restaurant was small and without a signboard or name, and then regular customers started to bring their families and friends to the place. After the restaurant became popular, a sign saying “Phuong’s warm banh cuon” was hung in the front.
The fillings in her banh cuon are similar to others’, comprising minced pork, wood ear and shiitake mushrooms stir fried. The banh cuon is rolled loosely, so it is easy to separate the rice paper wrap from the fillings inside. To serve the busy morning crowd, the banh cuon has to be rolled quickly but still looks good.
A special feature of the restaurant is the dipping sauce served with the banh cuon: It’s made from pork shoulder blade, sugar and other spices and a bit of sour caramel liquid sauce; there is no sign of the usual fish sauce. Moreover, it also has chopped shiitake mushrooms, an ingredient rarely seen at any other banh cuon restaurant in Hanoi.
What makes the sauce even more special is that despite its brown color, it does not have an overwhelming taste or smell of fish sauce, and the sweet and salt in it are well balanced.
There is also fish sauce, vinegar and lime slices on the tables for people who like to eat the traditional way. Customers can ask for more or less sauce depending on their preference.
The restaurant also sells shrimp floss without the usual pungent smell and fragrant and rich Vietnamese pork sausages.