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Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011 04:01 pm

Vietnamese, French-style, a multicultural delight


Comingling of two cultures can occur in any number of ways, some positive, others negative.  It may be through immigration, trade or proximity. Sometimes the mechanism is invasion and conquest.  But even when the cause produces cruelty and repression, the comingling of cultures’ cuisines can create a silver lining in an otherwise horrendous cloud, producing delicious offshoots everyone enjoys.  

That was particularly true during the French colonization of Vietnam.  France’s presence in Vietnam and much of what was then known as Indochina began as early as the 17th century.  Through much of the 19th century and until after WWII, France ruled Vietnam with an iron fist.  But even though the Vietnamese resented their French overlords, they eagerly embraced French foods such as bread (especially in the form of baguettes), crpes, ptés, sausage and ham. Here are two Vietnamese street foods favorites – of mine as well as the Vietnamese – with distinct French influences.

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.

Bánh Mi
Vietnamese “sub” sandwiches

Bánh Mi have long been popular in Vietnam. Lately they’re taking America by storm: “Are Bánh Mi poised to become New York’s #1 sandwich?” asked New York Magazine recently.  After winning challenges in every city for the entire contest, L.A.’s Bánh Mi truck, Nom Nom, was narrowly defeated as winner of the Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race. 

Bánh Mi might not have hit Springfield yet, but they’re easily made at home.   They are such a family favorite that they’ve become our standard take-on-roadtrips fare. I always use lemongrass sausage, the recipe for which can be found online at IT’s website.  It’s so delicious that it’s hard to keep from snitching pieces of it as I slice it.   The sausage has many other uses:  in stir-fries, to make summer rolls, or made into meatballs.  I often also add cooked shrimp in the sandwiches, or slices of leftover grilled or roast pork or chicken. 


  • Vietnamese dipping sauce (see below)
  • c. EACH carrot and daikon, cut into thin matchsticks
  • Fresh crusty sub rolls or six-inch lengths of baguette*
  • Mayonnaise
  • Soft lettuces or baby greens
  • Fresh Asian (preferred) or Italian basil, cilantro, and mint leaves

Possible fillings (alone or in combination):

  • Vietnamese sausage, cut into strips (see below)
  • Cooked shrimp
  • Grilled or roasted sliced chicken or pork
  • Fried tofu strips
  • Sautéed portabello mushroom slices
  • Thinly sliced ham
  • Headcheese and/or liver pté, such as  braunschweiger

In a resealable plastic bag or a bowl, toss the carrot and daikon matchsticks with the dipping sauce.  Marinate for at least one hour and up to several days before (refrigerate if not using within a few hours).  This makes enough pickled carrot and daikon for 4-6 sandwiches; leftovers can be kept for about two weeks.

Drain the vegetables (save the liquid for use as a dipping sauce). 

Cut the rolls lengthwise without completely cutting through one edge.  Spread both cut sides lightly with mayonnaise and line with lettuces.  Add the filling ingredients to your liking.  They can be eaten immediately, or wrapped tightly and kept, refrigerated, for a few hours.

*Vietnamese bakers use a combination of wheat and rice flour to make Bánh Mi buns which results in an exceptionally light crumb and crisp crust. For best results, choose a similar roll or baguette rather than something heavier, such as sourdough or whole wheat.

Bánh Xeo
seared Vietnamese rice crpes

Although these crpes look as if they contain eggs, the yellow color comes from turmeric.  They are wonderful for brunch or dinner.  Both the batter and the filling can be made a day or more ahead; assembling and cooking them takes just minutes. 

For the crpes:

  • 1 c. rice flour
  • 1 c. coconut milk
  • c. water
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • tsp. salt
  • tsp. curry powder
  • thinly sliced green parts of 2 large or 3 small scallions
  • vegetable oil

For the filling:

  • lb. cooked crabmeat OR shelled deveined shrimp, halved if large
  • Thinly sliced white parts of 2 large or 3 small scallions
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 T. fish sauce
  • 1 T. light brown sugar
  • lb. oyster or button mushrooms
  • 1 T. vegetable oil, PLUS an additional 1 T. if using the shrimp. 
  • About 2 c. fresh bean sprouts

To serve:

  • Soft lettuces or baby greens
  • Fresh Asian (preferred) or Italian basil, cilantro, and mint leaves
  • Vietnamese dipping sauce (see below)

Combine the dry ingredients for the crpes, and stir to combine.  Make a well in the center and whisk in the coconut milk and water and whisk until completely mixed.  Stir in the scallion greens and let stand at least 30 minutes, or refrigerated for up to 2 days.  Just before using, whisk again.  The batter should be the consistency of heavy cream; if it’s too thick, add water by the tablespoonful. 

Mix together the scallions, garlic, pepper, fish sauce, light brown sugar (if making vegetarian crpes, set this mixture aside) and then gently stir in the crabmeat or shrimp.  Let stand for about 15 minutes. 

Tear oyster mushrooms into shreds, or thinly slice button mushrooms.  Heat the tablespoon of oil in a large skillet or wok over high heat and when hot add the mushrooms. Stir-fry until the mushrooms are lightly browned and cooked through.  If using crab, add to the skillet and cook for about a minute until the scallions are softened, stirring very gently so as to break up the crabmeat as little as possible.  If using the shrimp, stir-fry until the shrimp are just cooked through, about 2 minutes. (For vegetarian crpes, add the reserved seasoning mixture above.)  Remove from the heat and set aside. 

Have the bean sprouts and the mushroom/crab mixture close at hand.  Place a 10-inch nonstick skillet over high heat and add a tablespoon of oil.  Stir the crpe batter well, and when the oil is very hot, pour in c. of the batter.  Swirl the pan to coat the bottom of the pan evenly. Immediately sprinkle a small handful (about 1/3 c.) of bean sprouts evenly over half the batter and then quickly spread about of the mushroom/crab mixture evenly over the sprouts.

Cover the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes or until the sprouts have softened slightly and the edges of the crpe are browned. The batter should be just set, still soft but not liquid on the surface.  Lift a corner of the crpe up and check the bottom.  It should be browned and crispy.  Flip the unfilled crpe half over onto the filled side, remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let stand for about 2 minutes.   Slide onto a plate and serve immediately, with the lettuce, herbs and dipping sauce.  Repeat with the remaining batter and filling. 

Bánh Xeo are traditionally eaten by tearing off a piece of the crpe and placing it in a large soft lettuce leaf.  The individual diner adds a few leaves of herbs of his or her choice, wraps it into a package, and dunks it into the sauce.  It’s lots of fun, but also messy.  Alternatively, serve each Bánh Xeo on a plate with torn soft lettuces and  herbs on the side and a small cup of the dipping sauce.  The diner cuts off a piece of Bánh Xeo, spears some lettuces and herbs, then dunks the whole into the sauce. 

Note:  Báhn Xeo are sometimes made with combinations of seafood and pork or chicken or all pork or chicken.  Vegetarian versions can be made with additional mushrooms and/or strips of fried tofu.  Makes 4 crpes.

Vietnamese dipping sauce

  • 3 bird chiles OR one Serrano or Jalapeno chile, or more or less to taste
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic
  • 3 T. light brown sugar
  • 2 T. lime juice
  • 4 T. fish sauce
  • c. warm water
  • 1 T. grated carrot, optional

Thinly slice the chiles, using rubber gloves in order to avoid skin contact with the hot peppers.  Put the chiles in a jar or bowl with the remaining ingredients and stir or shake until the sugar is dissolved.  Check the sauce.  You may want to add more fish sauce, lime juice, or sugar or reduce the strength of the sauce with a little additional water.  Keeps for several weeks, refrigerated.  Makes about 1 c.

Lemongrass sausage

  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1 T. minced garlic
  • 1/3c. minced shallot
  • 1/3c. minced lemongrass
  • 1 T. light brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4c. fish sauce
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • 1 c. fine fresh breadcrumbs

Mix all ingredients. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours. Form into square patties about an inch thick, and grill or sauté over medium heat until cooked through.  Chilling thoroughly before slicing makes it easier to slice the patties into quarter-inch strips.

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