For a region that experiences heavy monsoon seasons, a warm bowl of soup is an essential part of our diet, so it’s not surprising that Vietnamese cuisine also heavily features this.
Banh Canh is like a warm blanket on a rainy day – comforting, warm and nourishing. Literally translated as rice noodle soup, Banh Canh is possibly the simplest form of a soup dish in Vietnamese cuisine. For adventurous eaters, the soup dish is versatile enough to be customised with more expensive ingredients.
What is Banh Canh?
Banh Canh separates itself from the likes of other soupy dishes because of the uniqueness of its thick noodles, which are made from rice or tapioca flour. The use of tapioca is designed to give the noodles more springiness, making every bite of this warm dish extra chewy.
Just by appearances, the noodles bear a striking resemblance to udon or lau shu fen – another Malaysian soup delicacy. Indeed, Banh Canh also stands out thanks to its broth, which is made from pork stock which involves boiling of pigs feet, hocks, knuckles and neck bones. Simmered for an average of two hours, the flavours are further enhanced with seasonings like sugar, salt, and pork stock powder.
Additionally, Banh Canh’s soup doesn’t have a clear texture like what we’re normally used to. In fact, Banh Canh is slightly thicker and is closer to a gravy than it is a soup, but diners are still encouraged to slurp it all up regardless! When all the ingredients are prepared and cooked, the soup is then served with a side of Vietnamese herbs and greens.
Variations of Banh Canh
While Banh Canh is delicious as it is, locals tend to add extra ingredients to elevate the taste of the dish.
For example, a common variation of Banh Canh is called Banh Canh Cua, with ‘cua’ translating to mean crab. Yes, crab in a soup. Can you imagine just how good that would taste for all the seafood lovers out there? On top of having de-shelled crab swimming about in the broth, a dish of Banh Canh Cua also comes with shrimps, quail eggs and blood pudding. Some vendors even add “you tiao” on the side. Talk about a simple soup base that is now brimming with colourful ingredients!
If you don’t have direct access to fresh crabs, a simpler version (that tastes just as savoury) would be the Banh Canh Ga – ‘ga’ meaning chicken.
In many online recipes, Banh Canh Ga completely omits the use of pork in its broth – good news for our Muslim friends – and replaces it with chicken and dried shrimps instead. Assemble the dish as usual and add chicken strips or duck giblets for additional flavouring.
With meat being the basis of the broth, it’s hard to think how this dish can cater to our meatless food lovers, but fret not, a vegetarian version of Banh Canh is also easily available, but it goes by the name of Banh Canh Chay. Instead of using pork or chicken broth, the meat-free alternative uses vegetable broth alongside mushrooms to give it a hearty, umami taste. And it is finally topped with tofu, which is a great substitute for a chewy ingredient.
Where to Find Banh Canh in Malaysia
A trip to Vietnam would find Banh Canh to be easily available at restaurants and street vendors. But if you’re stuck at your home country, and not travelling to the delightful Vietnam any time soon, your second best option is to check out foodpanda for the nearest Vietnamese restaurant!