Then comes the Vietnamese banh cong
, which can turn your conventional idea of cupcakes on its head.
The cake is made in a mold that is half a soup ladle half a tube. The final result may look similar to your favorite dessert at a quick glance, but it’s not.
Banh cong is originally a dish of the Khmer in southern Vietnam. A long time ago it could only be found in Soc Trang Province, but southerners loved it so much they brought it around the Mekong Delta with them and turned the cake into the popular dish that it is today.
Its recipe is straightforward: a mixture of rice and soy flour, mung beans, shredded taro, minced pork and shrimps.
The frying method is a lot more complicated – there’s an order of what to put into the mold: first the batter, the beans and taro, the meat and then more batter. The cooks will carefully place a shrimp on top (or two if they are generous).
The whole mold is then dunked into boiling oil. After around 20 minutes, the cake is removed from the mold. But don’t salivate just yet.
The secret of the cake is that it will be quickly fried one more time, mold-free. This gives banh cong a perfectly crispy skin, but the cake inside is still very soft as if it were baked, not fried.
And because the Vietnamese cuisine is all about balance, a fried cake will be served with a lot of fresh herbs and vegetables.
Finally, the genius thing about banh cong is its dipping sauce, similar to the version paired with the famous banh xeo.
The lightly sweetened sauce with a touch of lime takes the cake to a whole new level. It’s truly the proverbial icing on the cake.
Where to try: Can Tho City and Soc Trang Province in the delta are arguably two best places in for banh cong.
In Ho Chi Minh City, check out the small shop at 8 Ly Thuong Kiet Street in Go Vap District.