An explosion of flavors

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 A dish of bánh tằm bì (silkworm-shaped rice cake with long thin strips of pork skin and fried pork) served at Banh tam bi Dong Thap Restaurant in District 5, Ho Chi Minh City /PHOTO: GIANG VU

Anyone eating bánh tằm bì (silkworm-shaped rice cake with long thin strips of pork skin and fried pork) for the first time cannot fail to notice its range of tastes all at the same time: sweet, salty with undertones of sourness and spiciness.

This comes from its sauce, which is a mix of coconut milk and nưá»›c mắm pha made from fish sauce, lime, garlic, and chili.

The unusual flavors of the "silkworm cake" usually create a love-or-hate relationship with the cake - you will either be addicted to it sooner rather than later or never wish to see it again for the rest of your life.

While it is not known if it evokes more love or hatred in Vietnam, it is clearly a favorite among Saigonese as evidenced by the many restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City that sell it.

But then don't culinary and cultural experts say that when it comes to food and drink, the Saigonese are among the most open-minded? After all, scores of restaurants offering exotic food from other regions in the country and from countries around the world can be found here.

At one of the most famous restaurants selling the dish, Bánh tằm bì Đồng Tháp, it is served in a dish where the bottom layer consists of strips of cucumber, lettuce, herbs, and bean sprouts.

Above the rice cake strips are long thin strips of pork skin and fried pork mixed with thính, a Vietnamese spice made from roasted rice or grilled rice paper, ground fine.

It is accompanied by roasted peanut, long slices of fermented carrot and white radish, and shredded spring onions fried in oil.

To make the sauce, people in the Mekong Delta cook the coconut milk until it is quite thick and mix it with the fish sauce, creating the unforgettable flavors of bánh tằm bì.

Bánh tằm bì Đồng Tháp (Dong Thap Province bánh tằm bì)

352 Nguyen Trai Street, Ward 8, District 5
Open hours: 8:30 a.m. 7 p.m.
Prices: bánh tằm bì (VND30,000/dish), xíu mại (VND5,000/piece), xôi bắp (VND12,000/dish)

The cake is smooth and white and is fairly tough. In the past people used to shape it with their hands, so the strings were not equal sized, but now, with the use of cutters, it has a uniform shape.

Some people eat bánh tằm bì with xíu mại, or meat balls, which are minced pork seasoned with spices, onions, and tomato sauce.

When you visit a restaurant for bánh tằm bì, do not forget to try out other specialties from the delta like xôi bắp cốt dừa (sticky rice with corn and coconut milk); bánh da lợn (literally translated as pig skin cake), a steamed layer cake made from tapioca starch, rice flour, mashed mung bean, taro or durian, sugar, coconut milk, and water; and chuối hấp cốt dừa (banana cake with coconut milk).

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