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Soup simplicity

banh-canh-trang--bang

I first noticed this joint, Quan Co Tam - Banh Canh Trang Bang at 188 Nguyen Van Thu street in District 1, because of the difficulty I had negotiating my way past it one evening. A mob of noodle fans had spilled out of the restaurant and were lining the pavement - 10 slurpers deep, 10 wide - faces bent bowlwards. I saw there was only dish on the conveyer belt - always a good sign - Banh Canh (Pork and udon style noodle soup) and I made a mental note to return one day. There's not an awful lot to a Banh Canh. Some come with shrimp, crab, chicken, a pork hock or a combination effort, but that's about all the variation. A takeaway for 2 costs 20,000VD for the standard Banh Canh with thin slivers of boiled pork, fat trimmed off. Many Vietnamese seem to like fatty meats, but in general it's a no-no for me.

banh-canh-serving

The waitress bagged up the soup, noodles and pork with a dash of spring onions, lettuce, beansprouts. I also scored a Banh trang phoi suong (literally means "rice pancake exposed in the dew (at night)" which is a boiled pork/rice paper herb wrap number. It comes with a mountain of herbs including a long fragrant, glossy green leaf herb which I don't know the name of in any language (I did ask, but no-one seemed to know and it's not here). UPDATE: I blogged that dish here. Apparently, it is quite special and peculiar to this dish. You also get a small bag of freshly chopped red chilies, sliced lemon and a bag of unadulterated nuoc mam (fish sauce). You can add the chili and lemon to taste and whack the fish sauce in a small dish for dipping. Banh Canh doesn't require a souped up nuoc mam, so you won't find any chili, carrot or whatever in with it. You dip the pork into the sauce as you eat, that's all. Not sure how these quirks of taste develop for some soups and not others, but there you go.

banh-canh-closeup

After a disappointing Hu Tiu some time ago I was wary of this dish as it is quite similar, just simpler. But, I needn't have worried. It's this simplicity that is Banh Canh's strength. it's a clear soup and has a purity other Vietnamese soups like Pho bo or Banh canh cua lack. Admittedly, I don't have a lot of Banh canh experience, but even I could tell this restaurant's popularity stems from a three pronged attack on the taste buds. First up there's the tenderness of the pork, then, the quality of the broth, which is both meaty and ever so slightly aromatic and lastly there's the freshness of the noodles. Put the lot together and you have one of the simplest Vietnamese soups out there, yet one of the best and, total guesswork here, probably one of the hardest to replicate on the stove back home.

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Comments

I think the long leaf green herb that you were referring to is called laksa leaf or "rau ram". You can see its picture on this website, http://www.foodsubs.com/HerbsAsian.html

xin giup em lam banh canh di!

Dear anh,

I'm a familiar customers of this store lately. However, through what you have described here, i feel it more tasty and yummy. Perhaps i should go there again soon. For the special must-have herbs, i can tell you some in Vietnamese but not know exactly how it's correctly translated back to English (surely that i have to look up in the dictionary). They are ivy leaf (la' co'c), mango leaf, marigold leaf (la' van tho), shallot, celery, perilla nankinensis, coriander, common basil,....

Thanks for loving Vnese food and have a very nice blog. I have sent your site to many foreigners to introduce about VN food.

Regards
Quynh

I read this well written article and it mame me home sick!!!!

Simplicity is the spirit, the beauty and the philosophy of typical Vietnamese food such as goi cuon (Spring rolls), banh canh, bun nuoc suong, banh beo, etc... We use very less or no spices at all, but bring all original taste from fresh ingredients into final products. However, even if the main dish is simply prepared, sauce is a key of the food and a signature of the chief.

cach che bien banh trang phoi suong nhu the na`o ha chi

Dear Graham,

Wow, whan an excellent Blog!
I have been working there for awhile but i haven't discovered that country as you did!!
You made me feel to go back there soon!!
Bon courage!!

Nav

You have not lived until you have tried the Banh Canh sold by this old woman in the Ba Ria village. I visited Vietnam 8 years ago and remember having a special super sized bowl of her Banh Canh every evening she set up on her little plot on the side of the road. I made sure I was the first every day. She didn't even have a cart or a table. I remember she would make one pot full each day and once she was sold out, even early, she would be done and not cook anymore. I recently visited Vietnam again and now she's too old to sell on the side of the road, so she cooks the Banh Canh and her daughter sells it on the side of the road from morning to afternoon and relocate at the market during the evening and late night to early morning. They at least have a cart now.

I love telling people that no matter what I eat and wear I eat it at, nothing compares to the Banh Canh I had made by an old lady who sold off the side of the road in Vietnam.

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