Story: Nguyen Sa
Photos: Nguyen Hai, Nguyen Sang
Discover some of the simple yet unforgettable delicacies on offer in Quang Binh Province.
Quang Binh Province is blessed with both magnificent nature and a unique cultural heritage. The Gianh River in Quang Binh was the historical border between Tonkin and Cochinchina, resulting in the province’s rich cultural diversity, best reflected in this region’s cuisine, especially the rustic cakes that originated from the mountains, plains, and seaside.
CRISPY RICE PAPERS FROM TAN AN
(QUANG THANH – QUANG TRACH)
Tan An Village (previously Ba Phuong, Loc Dien, or “the ward of rice noodles and cakes”) in Quang Thanh commune, Quang Trach District still retains its old-fashioned charm. Here, villagers are keeping the traditional craft of making bánh tráng or bánh đa (crispy rice papers) alive. Nestled beside the peaceful Gianh River, the village is festooned with brightly colored rice papers whenever the Lunar New Year approaches. Rice paper sheets as round as the moon are placed flat on bamboo racks and sun-dried in yards, by roadsides, and even on rooftops. The bright yellow sheets carry the mild scent of fresh rice. For hundreds of years and many generations, this craft has been the village’s main profession. To create the local rice paper’s signature rich flavor, particularly for the milled sesame rice papers, villagers follow meticulous methods. The main ingredient is high-quality white rice, which is soaked and thoroughly washed before being milled into fine rice flour. The rice paper’s final quality and attractiveness depend on the ratio of milled sesame, rice flour, and water. This mixture is then cut into perfect circular sheets and sun-dried. The right amount of sunlight will help bring out the fragrance of fresh rice and sesame, while a sheet’s strength depends on its appropriate dryness. Too much sun exposure will make the rice paper brittle and fragile; not enough will result in sheets that are too soft, devoid of fragrance, and prone to spoiling.
To diversify, villagers in Tan An created various types of rice cakes. Thin sesame rice papers are made from finely pounded sesame seeds and rice flour, spread as thinly as possible and cut into circles about 20cm in diameter. They are used as regular rice paper wrappers for fresh rolls with steamed pork, grilled fish, and herbs. The thicker type has a traditional flavor, and turns light brown and crispy when grilled. Meanwhile, sugared sesame cakes are slightly sweeter and suitable for snacking. Tan An rice papers are packaged, sold nationwide, and even exported. These cakes carry the villagers’ immense love and pride in the rustic flavors of rice and sesame, as well as Quang Binh’s sunny skies.
BANH XEO FROM QUANG HOA – BA DON
The banh xeo (Vietnamese crispy crepe) from Quang Hoa Commune, Ba Don Town is a common local offering that has recently become popular with tourists. This commune has long perfected the craft of making savory crepes. While the ingredients are simple, to make good banh xeo requires time, experience, and hard work. The cook must endure the constant heat of a burning coal stove. Brown rice, the main ingredient, is washed and soaked for hours before being finely milled with water. To enhance the flavor and appearance of the crepes, cooks usually add a pinch of chopped scallions and salt to the mixture. The crepes are cooked in flat cast-iron molds about 15cm wide and 1.5cm thick, pre-heated on coal stoves. When the mold is hot enough, the cook adds vegetable oil, then pours in the rice batter, covers the mold with a lid, and waits for it to cook. Mrs. Hoang Thi Dieu Vinh, a 75-year-old with nearly six decades of experience making these crispy crepes, explained: “The sizzling sound – “xeo” – when the batter touches hot oil gives the dish its name.” This dish is best served hot and fresh out of the mold, either rolled and eaten on its own or with herbs, bean sprouts, or piper lolot leaves. The crepes are served with a simple yet special dipping sauce made from fish sauce, sugar, and bright red sliced chilies.
BANH LOC FROM DONG HOI
While crepes, crispy sesame rice papers, and banh duc (steamed rice cakes) have become staples in the northern part of Quang Binh, its southern region has its own signature dish right in Dong Hoi City: banh loc (tapioca dumplings). These dumplings are available year-round but Quang Binh people like to present them as gifts during the Lunar New Year as a symbol of good fortune. Banh loc, originally from Hue City, gets a local touch in Quang Binh. There are many dumpling workshops in Hai Thanh ward (Dong Hoi District) and surrounding areas. The dumplings are made from simple, everyday ingredients. Fresh cassavas are milled, filtered, and kneaded to produce pure white tapioca starch. The starch is mixed with cool water, cooking oil, and salt, then cooked and stirred constantly on low heat until it forms a thick, elastic dough. The dough is pinched into 5cm dumpling sheets and stuffed with stir-fried minced shrimp, pork, fresh bamboo shoots, green beans, seasoning, and a touch of fragrant hot peppers. There are two types of banh loc: one wrapped in fresh banana leaves and one without a wrapper. The starchy white dumplings turn translucent when steamed, revealing their fillings. The dumplings are often served with a savory, tangy, spicy, and slightly sweet dipping sauce. Banh loc are widely available in street-side eateries, from street hawkers, and in restaurants such as Me Xuan, Huong Hoai, and Hien Thuy. Visitors can easily enjoy this cheap Quang Binh delicacy anytime, anywhere in the heart of Dong Hoi City.