How many different dishes can one make with some form of carbohydrate, shrimp and the occasional pork rind? Leave it to the Vietnamese to have created a fantastic number of dishes using these relatively limited ingredients, all of them creative and delicious.
I became aware of this at a restaurant called Hàng Me in the central Vietnamese city of Hue. Although located steps from the backpacker strip, the place was filled with locals and littered with the banana leaves used to steam the various dishes -- both signs of good eats.
I started with the dish above, bánh bèo. Mentioned previously, the dish takes the form of a noodle steamed in a ceramic cup and topped with a savoury shrimp mixture and pork rinds. I enjoyed this one even more than the one in Hoi An: the noodle at Hàng Me was soft and slightly salty, and pork rinds make just about anything taste better.
Another variant on the noodle-and-shrimp theme was bánh nam:
This was my favourite item of the meal. The noodle, steamed in a banana leaf:
was again incredibly tender and savoury, and the shrimp topping was deliciously meaty, fatty and rich.
Bánh ram ít were almost identical to bánh bèo, except that the noodle here is perched on a crispy round of pork rind:
Bánh loc, another combination of carb and shrimp, was steamed in what I assume was a bamboo leaf:
The noodle element was apparently made from tapioca flour and is supplemented with two shrimps and a piece of fatty pork belly. The slightly rubbery texture of the noodle and the fact that the shrimp weren't shelled made this my least favourite item of the meal.
As I was about to leave, they brought out a few slices of freshly-made chả tôm, steamed 'cake' of prawns:
Eggy, meaty, and, at that point at least, graciously lacking a noodle element, it was a perfect end to my most memorable meal in Vietnam.
Hàng Me 45 Võ Thị Sáu, Hue 7am-10pm 054 383 7341
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