Vietnamese Comfort Food: Snacking On Banh Beo In Hue

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I can still remember the freezing January mornings when I would run into the local deli before heading to school, salivating at the thought of getting my hands on the only food that would begin my day on a good note. I would run past the line of people waiting for a steaming cup of coffee, and head straight for the food counter. Ordering was not necessary as my friends at the grill station knew instinctively to pull one warm pork roll — a sandwich of taylor-ham and cheese — from behind the glass window and pass me the soft, round, foil-enveloped goodness.

The highly caloric sandwich was a favorite snack of my friends and I, and a coveted comfort food in the area of New Jersey I grew up in. It was certainly no Eric Ripert creation, but nonetheless, it was a food that brought enjoyment in the simplest of settings, at any time of the day.

Approximately 8,000 miles away, in Hue, Vietnam, people are indulging in their version of pork rolls known as banh beo. In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Jon Krich points out that banh beo — a thin, round dough of powdered rice and manioc (cassava), accompanied by side dishes of rice flour, fish sauce and shrimp meat — is Hue’s “most popular between-meals treat.”

Banh beo loosely translates to “water fern cake,” appropriately named for its resemblance to a water lily found at the surface of many ponds. The dish is served next to banana leaves, a tradition suggesting that its lineage traces back to the once dominate Cham culture of Central Vietnam. If that is indeed the case, banh beo would have been considered an “imperial” food at the time, rather than the casual snack it is today.

The simple dish can be found in the humblest of establishments, many of which remain true to the food’s street food roots, offering only a small table or a few scattered stools for its customers. “And, even though the banh beo will be what’s advertised on the signboard or awning, the dish — usually served a dozen at a time — often is the centerpiece for an array of rolls and buns, available almost any time of the day, perfect for breakfast or late-night after-drinks nibbling,” recalls Krich.

Similar to the talyor ham sandwich phenomenon and its array of enhancers — eggs, ketchup, and fried potatoes — banh beo has its own delectable renditions.  Sometimes it is topped with fried shallots, or a lump of pork fat, or for those who say “bring on the carbs!” a gooey rice concoction grilled in a banana leaf will satisfy almost any craving.

No matter how you like your banh beo the beauty of it remains the same: a simple food served in a simple setting that for many has been a staple since childhood.

By Maria Russo


About the Author

Maria Russo is a freelance writer who loves natural wonders, good eats, ethical travel, and boutique hotels. Her work has appeared on the Huffington Post, USA, and A Luxury Travel Blog, among others.


When Maria is not writing for her all-time favorite site (that would be The Expeditioner), she spends her time blogging about foreign jaunts and delectable food experiences for her site: Memoirs of a Travel & Food Addict. She is also up to no good on Twitter (@traveladdictgrl, @expedmaria).

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