The Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation jointly held a meeting in Hanoi on May 25 to mark the World No Tobacco Day (May 31) and launch the National No Tobacco Week (May 25-31).
Vietnam, one of the world’s rice granaries, is home to a wide range of delicious cakes made from the grain. Banh cuon (steamed rice rolls) is one such.
A northern dish that has become popular all over the country, banh cuon is a crêpe-like roll made using a thin, wide sheet of rolled rice flour filled with ground pork, various kinds of mushrooms, and other ingredients.
It is steamed, dipped in nuoc mam (fish sauce), and served with cha (Vietnamese pork sausage) and certain vegetables.
The rice sheet is very thin and must be made just before the cake is made. Banh cuon is a light, healthy dish generally eaten for breakfast, though there are different versions of it.
The most famous version is banh cuon Thanh Tri from the eponymous southern Hanoi district. Vendors carrying a basket of banh cuon on their heads covered with lotus or banana leaves are a fairly common sight in the capital.
To serve a customer, they use a chopstick to dexterously separate the thin and sticky rice sheets while making sure they do not break.
They put rolled rice sheets on a dish and cut each of them into two halves.
The rolls usually contain two kinds of pork sausages, one of which is called cha que (cinnamon sausage) because it is made from ground pork and powdered cinnamon to make it sweet and fragrant, and coriander.
The biggest difference between banh cuon Thanh Tri and banh cuon dishes made in other parts of the country is that the former does not have the stuffing of chopped pork and mushrooms.
What it does have is the unique taste of the rice sheet and cinnamon sausage.
A good cook must know how to make the rice sheets very thin. It is steamed over a fabric covered pot which quickly cooks the rice flour, keeping it moist and elastic enough to be folded or rolled.
A very thin layer of batter is poured on the fabric, which is made of fine nylon or cotton, and evenly spread. The delicate rice crepe is steamed in less than a minute and removed with a flat, flexible bamboo stick.
When the rice sheets are still smoking hot, the cook puts a small quantity of filling in the center and spreads it out thinly before folding the sides and placing in a serving tray.
An essential ingredient to make the dish tasty is fried onion. Fresh onions are cut into very thin pieces and fried in oil until they are yellow and crisp. The fried onions are sprinkled on the banh cuon.
When it comes to nuoc cham (dipping sauce), each region has a different way of making it. In the south, the sauce is always sweeter because the cooks add extra dollops of sugar to it. In the north, a drop of ca cuong, an essence obtained from a giant water bug, is sometimes added for extra flavor.
Generally, the sauce is diluted with cool water, vinegar, and sugar, while pepper or chili is also often added.
The vegetables served with the banh cuon are usually coriander and mint in the north and basil and bean sprouts in the south.