1. Banh it ram (fried sticky rice dumplings, pork belly, mung bean, shrimp) is the lesser known cousin of banh it tran,
though both are central Vietnam regional specialties. The main
difference between the two is that banh it ram sits on a layer of
glutinous rice that is then fried golden brown and crisp on the outside,
but the inside is still deliciously chewy, toothy, and soft--a great
contrasting texture. How this dish came to be we have no
idea--personally we think some banh it tran makers back
in Vietnam had too much dough left over and wanted a way to use it
without throwing it away--you know how frugal Vietnamese are!
Regardless, it's an ingenious combination. Top with some minced shrimp
and nuoc mam cham and you've got a really tasty and texturally amazing
The technique is identical to our banh it tran
recipe with a few added steps. First you need to make the rice layer
for the dumpling to sit on. Being pseduoscientific, we rolled some the
glutinous rice dough into a thin string and then coiled it into a
circle--the thinking is that there's more surface area to be crispy! But
to be honest, it probably wasn't necessary and you can simply make a
thin flat disk and it would work just as well.
Marinate the shrimp with 1 ts fish sauce, sugar, pepper and set
aside for about 20 mins. Marinate the pork with 1 ts fish sauce, sugar,
pepper, and dark soy sauce also for about the same time. In a large pan
at medium high heat, saute the pork belly first. No oil is needed here
as there's plenty of fat in the belly. When it's about 1/2 way done, add
shrimp but not the garnishing shrimp. Saute until both are done and set
aside. Then toss in reminder of the 3-4 tbs of shrimp and saute until
done. When cool, mince in a mortar and pestle or finely mince with knife
and set aside.
Make the scallion oil by heating a few tbs cooking oil such as olive oil and adding the scallions just to wilt and set aside.
You can either steam or boil the mung beans. We prefer steaming it since
we don't like to stand in front of a pot and stirring (use only enough
water just to cover the beans). Steam mung beans until you can easily
smash the grain with your fingers. The longer you soak in water, the
quicker it will steam--if overnight about 15 minutes. When done,
transfer to bowl or mortar and smash into a paste with rubber spatula.
Now in mixing bowl, incorporate the mung bean paste, shrimp and pork
together. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Allow to cool and form
small balls, about quarter size and set aside. This can all be done a
day in advance.
In separate mixing bowl, combine glutinous rice flour with salt and mix.
Work it into a pliable play dough like texture. Be patient--it'll come
together. The dough is too wet when it's soft and sticky--you can add a
bit more flour or let it air dry for about 10 minutes. It's easier to
work with a slightly dryer dough. When working with the dough, if it
starts to break from being too dry, just add a bit more water.
Pinch off dough and roll into small golf ball size and flatten into a
round disk. Add the ball of filling in the center and fold over the
edges and roll gently, sealing it. Use some all purpose flour on your
hands if you find it too sticky. You can keep a small bowl of water on
hand and using your wet fingers seal off any cracks. For photos of this
process, see the che xoi nuoc recipe. Keep the formed dumplings on a clean dry surface such as a cookie tray or cutting board and don't let them touch.
Make sure you save enough dough to make the rice cakes the dumpling sits
on. Again, no need to roll it into a string like we did--a thin 1/4
inch or so round cake will do. Make a gentle indentation and wet the
center of the cake and gently push down to seal.
In a large pot, being careful not to overcrowd, boil dumpling until
they rise--remove from water and allow each to drain dry--a large tray
covered with plastic wrap would work, but don't let them touch as it's
Make sure the dumplings are completely dry before frying. In a large
saute pan heat up on medium high only enough oil so that it just covers
the top of the rice cake. Fry until golden brown and remove and drain on
paper towels. Plate and top with minced shrimp and scallion oil and
serve with nuoc mam cham and pickled carrots and daikon.
We can't mention it enough, but
Vietnamese cuisine is so much a balance of flavors and here is an
example of not just flavors, but a balance of textures--so crispy on the
outside yet so perfectly chewy and soft on the inside. A delicious