Vietnamese Rice Vermicelli Sheets (Banh Hoi)
Traditional Vietnamese Rice Vermicelli Sheets (Banh Hoi, Question Cake) are sheets of woven thin rice vermicelli. Noodles are thin enough to make the cakes soft and airy, the texture of vermicelli sheet is firm enough so noodles stick to each other. This cake is served cold with chopped green onions or garlic chives stir-fried with oil and some Vietnamese meat or prawn dishes (Pork Patties, Grilled Pork, Grilled Beef in Wild Betel, Roast Pork, Vietnamese Fried Roll, Grilled Minced Prawn on Sugarcane). Herbs, vegetables and dipping fish sauce/soy sauce are also served with this food.
Some people think that Banh Hoi originated from South Vietnam, it has been brought to Hue ancient capital of Vietnam by Queen Mother Tu Du in 19th century. The cake has become more and more popular in the country. In each region, they have their own way to eat Banh Hoi. In South Vietnam, highly regarded, Banh Hoi is a must food at weddings and death anniversaries. At these ceremonial parties, these cakes are rolled, topped with chopped green onion sauteed in oil, served with Roast Pork and dipping soy sauce/fish sauce. In Soc Trang province, they eat this cake with Grilled Prawn, local herbs and dipping fermented fish paste. In Vung Tau province, Banh Hoi is served with Grilled Beef Sticks or Toast Pork
Banh Hoi with Grilled Pork and chopped green onion sauteed in oil
Rolled Banh Hoi with Pork Patties, herbs, cucumber, chopped green onion sauteed in oil
In Hue, they serve Banh Hoi with Pork Patties, fish sauce dip, herbs, salad and cucumber. In Binh Dinh province of Vietnam’s South Central Coast region, locals can eat Hoi Cake simply with garlic chives stir-fried with oil for any meal during the day. In Phu Yen province, they eat Banh Hoi with Boiled Pig Offal.
It needs many steps to make Vietnamese Rice Vermicelli Sheets. At first, high-quality rice is soaked in water for about half-day, then washed with water for some times until the water is clear. Washed rice is ground with water into rice flour mixture which is steamed and kneaded, or cooked in big pan while being stirred continuously. The cook must be an experienced one that know when it starts to coagulate but no flour stucks on stirring tool to stop cooking the mixture. This is the most important step to make light, soft, not sticky Banh Hoi with firm texture.
The dough is well-done and ready for being pressed into noodle form using a copper or aluminum cylindrical tool with several needle-eye-sized. It requires great strength to press because the dough is hard but the holes are small. When one person press the dough, other person “catches” the coming out thin noodles, press them together and cut off them every 10 cm. That’s the way the make woven noodle sheets – Banh Hoi. These sheets are laid onto a surface before being steamed for about five minutes.
In the past, Vietnamese Rice Vermicelli Sheets are made for parties or selling at local market and it lasts about 1 hour at room temperature. In recent days, there are packaged dried Banh Hoi which is ready for serving after being steaming for 10 minutes. Hoi Cake is one of the most brilliant stars in the sky of Vietnamese foods. Noodles, rice noodles, bread, rolls are popular around Asian countries but only Vietnam has Rice Vermicelli Sheets. It’s a less-known traditional food in comparison to other Vietnamese foods such as Pho, Vietnamese Spring Roll, Vietnamese Bread. However, it’s the food any foreigner should try on his trip to our country to know more about real local food as well as Vietnamese cuisine and culture.