Traditional dish, served with old-world charm

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Superior quality and service marks an old, small stall in downtown Ho Chi Minh City alley that serves homemade banh cuon (rolled rice cake) and banh uot (wet cake)

 A dish of banh cuon (rolled rice cake) served at a stall in an alley of District 1, Ho Chi Minh City/ PHOTOS: GIANG VU

Banh cuon a crepe-like rice cake rolled typically with pork, wood ear mushrooms, shallots and garlic, all minced is a dish from northern Vietnam which has become so popular in HCMC, that it is not only a breakfast staple, but also something eaten at any time of the day or night. 

Ask a local gourmet or check out some food and drink guiding website, you can easily find a good and famous seller of banh cuon in the city.

What I'm recommending here, however, is rarely listed on such sites.

This is such as small stall that it has only two tables and a couple of stools, and is tucked away in a small alley on Nguyen Trai Street in District 1.

The banh cuon it serves does not look different from those served elsewhere the thin, soft rice wrap is the same, as are the fillings.

Toppings are also the same: pieces of cha lua (Vietnamese pork roll), pieces of a fried cupcake made with rice flour, shrimp and mung beans, and nem chua (fermented pork sausage that is sweet, sour and spicy). And, so are accompaniments: shredded basil and cucumbers, bean sprouts, fried shallots, and nuoc mam (fish sauce mixed with vinegar or lime juice and sugar).

However, the similarity ends, and the difference begins the minute you start eating this dish this stall.

Unlike many other sellers, the banh cuon here is so thin that you can see through to its filling. When eaten, it feels silky and soft, not thick and hard.

A gourmet can even recognize that the wrap is made with good rice and fermented just right.

Lan, the owner, said all the processes of making banh cuon as well as fried cupcakes and fried shallots are done by her family members in their house, which is nearby.

BÁNH CUỐN, BÁNH ƯỚT

Alley No.150, Nguyen Trai Street, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

Open hours: 5:30 a.m. 12 a.m.

Price: VND21,000/dish

The stall was founded nearly 50 years ago by Lan's mother-in-law who came to HCMC from the north in 1954. When she became old, Lan took it over.

Given its longevity, the stall has its fair share of long-standing clients and regulars, but most order takeaways because of the restricted seating space.

I love eating banh cuon at the stall itself, enjoying the friendliness of the owner, who is willing to give customers extra fresh herbs when asked. The stall also has two kinds of nuoc mam one is sweeter to suit the southerners' taste, and another is saltier and sourer for northerners.

After finishing a dish of banh cuon, I usually order a small dish of banh uot (literally translated as "wet cakes") which is like banh cuon but without the filling.

Made from the same rice flour as banh cuon, the wet cakes are still good, even though it is eaten with just fried shallots and nuoc mam (usually, banh uot's accompaniments are the same as banh cuon's).

Another reason why I prefer eating at the stall is that at the end of the meal, I can enjoy warm tea from a pot that the owner puts on the table for customers to have, for free.

This is an extra service that carries with it an old-world charm, which can no longer be found in many other eateries in the city. 

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