After the first one on noodles, here comes the second episode of Southeast Asia street-food series. It’s the turn of DUMPLINGS, another treat in this part of the world.
What are we talking about? Mainly, I mean all those dishes made with a dough and stuffed. In some cases we are borderline with pancakes, as you will see…
As far as I understood, this kind of food in the countries I visited (Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and Malaysia) generally have Chinese origin or influence. I haven’t been to China yet, so I cannot make any comparison. For sure nothing to do with the dumplings I had in Chinese restaurants in Italy! The Vietnamese bánh fall into this category (but also go beyond – bánh mi, for instance, is a baguette). The dough used varies greatly: rice flour alone, starch (typically tapioca) alone or a variable mix of the two. This makes them a bit chewy, quite different from Italian “stuffed” pasta (such as ravioli or tortellini).
Before writing about the dishes let me introduce you this lady. In his not fashionable stand at Dong Ba market in Hué, central Vietnam, I had one of my tastiest street food experiences, trying various dumpling specialties and more. Among them you’ll find the ones ranking second and third!
Here we go then with my ranking of the best DUMPLINGS I had in Southeast Asia
#6 Bánh bột lọc (Hanoi, Vietnam)
This dish is quite common in Vietnam and I saw similar things also in Chinatowns elsewhere. Thanks to the tranlucent dought – made with tapioca starch – allowing you to see the pork and shrimp filling bánh bot loc are very tempting. I tried them as a snack while exploring Honoi’s old town, dipping them in a sweet and sour sauce with peanuts. They were good, but the spiceness of the sauce was a bit hiding their taste.
Unknown stand, old town – 20.000 dong (0,80 €)
#5 Bánh bao vac / white rose (Hoi An, Vietnam)
Hoi An’s signature dish also known by its Western name “white rose” (awarded by the French, it seems). The recipe is secret: the shrimp filling is wrapped into two rice dought discs giving the “rose” shape (sorry, can’t really see from my pic!). They are then covered with fried pork rind and a light Chinese chives sauce. I tried other dishes in Hoi Ancentral market and I must say that no one impressed me. I have the feeling that in such a touristic city you need to get far away from the center to find nice street food (I was in an other market too, but I tried other stuff). If I had found a nice bánh bao vac perhaps I would have ranked it at the top. But as I explained in the first post you also need to be lucky with street food.
Diệp, central market – 20.000 dong (0,80 €)
#4 Kanom jeeb (Bangkok, Thailand)
A nice memory of my Southeast Asia sabbatical quarter very first day. Just after landing in Bangkok I immediately started to explore food (I’ve already talked about that here). While I was walking with Anja around downtown we found two ladies on the edge of an alley with a pan containing these wonderful cabbage and pork dumplings garnished with a – needless to say – sweet & sour sauce. Awesome.
Standt in an alley, Thanon Tanao – 30 baht (0.75 €)
#3 Bánh it ram (Hué, Vietnam)
Among the various bánh I tried – and finally we come to the Hué stand I mentioned above – this one seemed to me the most appetizing and elegant. A fried beignet topped by a small steamed dumpling – both made with the same sticky rice flour dough – and a drop of sauce. Could be part of a fancy Milanese aperitivo.
Cô Châo (Ty), Dong Ba market – 10.000 dong (0,40 €)
#2 Bánh bèo (Hué, Vietnam)
That’s one of the most popular bánh. It is like a steamed “open” rice flour dumpling covered with dried shrimp and pork and served with fried pork rind bringing a crispy balance to the dough softness. An extremely good dish.
Cô Châo (Ty), Dong Ba market – 15.000 dong (0,60 €)
#1 Dim sum (Penang, Malaysia)
Malaysia has an important Chinese community and in Penang island you find its cuisine at best. And of course you have dim sum. As a matter of fact I’m talking about a wide category, there are endless steamed or stir-fried variants of them. Since an average basket has 4 pieces it’s a perfect dish to share, as I did with my hiking companions on Inle Lake in Myanmar (in a Chinese restaurant, of course). It’s so funny to open the basket and find out what’s inside. And, as you can see, in Georgetown this trolley pulled by a lady really blew my mind. No way to understand from her how they were made, so I made my choice based upon the looks. I took and feasted with 4 baskets (I was alone this time). Don’t ask what was inside those dim sum. Shrimp and pork for sure, the rest was a delicious mystery. A delight.
Trolley from Tai Tong restaurant, 45 Lebuh Cintra, Gorgetown – 14 ringgit (3 €)
CLOSE AND DISTANT RELATIVES
Bánh cuốn (Meo Vac, Vietnam)
Finding a place to dine in a remote northern Vietnam town in winter may be not that simple. But in the end a lady with a steaming pot and a wok has attracted my and Marie’s attention that time. The result on our table was a sort of rice and tapioca pancake accompanied by a clear broth and boiled pork sausage. Not so tasty I must say, but the context made the experience enjoyable.
Bánh bao (Hà Giang, Vietnam)
Another classic Chinese specialty. It’s basically a steamed bread with a pork filling. It’s not one of my favourite dishes, but I have a wonderful memory of a shop in Ha Giang, Northern Vietnam, where I was at the beginning and at the end of the incredible three-day bike ride. Once for breakfast, the other time for dinner. It shows how often in Asia dishes are eaten throughout the day. The lady and her son who ran the place were smart and produced a lot of bánh bao to sell around Hà Giang province.
Kanom gui chai (Bangkok, Thailand)
In Bangkok’s abundant street food offer it is sometimes not easy to find vegetarian salty snacks (fruit instead is everywhere!). Kanom gui chai often saved me. These dumplings – made of mixed rice flour and tapioca starch – can be filled with various vegetables such as taro, but my definite favorite is the classic with Chinese chives.
That’s all folks on DUMPLINGS! Check next episodes on Southeast Asia’s street food:
or read the first one on noodles
Anything to say about Asian dumplings? Leave a comment!
Ultimate guide to dim sum di Jamie Oliver
Video: How to make bánh bèo