The humble rice cracker graces many a low plastic table in Vietnam, and is quite the accompaniment to many dishes across the country for the cuisine embraces textures, of which ‘crunchy’ plays a big part. The Vietnamese equivalent of the famous Indian poppadum is an incredibly popular snack across the country, and each region has it’s own version and Hoi An is no exception.
We pay a visit Mrs Linh and her family on one of our day tours of Hoi An, where we can all have a go at making the perfect rice cracker – it’s trickier than it looks, and is incredibly hot work in steam room-like temperatures!
Most producers will be local families that grow their own rice on land allocated to them by the local commune which yields two harvests per year, usually one in April/May and one in September – weather dependent. After the back-breaking craft of growing, cultivating and then the harvesting the rice, they have their own supply.
The process involves taking the grains of rice, mixing with water and grinding into a batter-like paste. Until recently, this was done on a traditional stone rice grinder, however, Mrs.Linh now has the relative luxury of an electric grinder. To this, Mrs.Linh will now add sesame seeds & a hint of chili to her recipe, to make the ‘banh trang me’
The paste is now ready to be transformed! The rice husks (nothing here goes to waste) are used to fire a clay stove, in which a pot of water is placed, brought to the boil. A piece of cloth is stretched over the pot, and the rice paste is ladled on to the material, spread out evenly into the traditional circular shape, covered and steamed for about 30 seconds. After which, the freshly steamed jelly-like circle is laid onto netting (stretched over a bamboo frame) and will be dried in the hot sunshine for about 3 hours.
So to the final process, the dried rice crackers are then char grilled on either side, where they slowly form the crispy texture we are all familiar with.
Luckily, Mrs Linh has the finished article on hand to sample, which is crafted into Banh Dap. This literally means ‘smashed cake’. Two crispy rice crackers sandwich a large flat and wet (fresh) rice noodle, and they are literally ‘smashed’ into smaller bite size pieces. Dipped into a fish sauce with garlic and chilli, they are delicious and very more-ish. These are definitely a must-try dish in Vietnam, and go perfectly with a cold beer or a fresh sugarcane juice.