How banh khot represents family, comfort and childhood.
“Home is where the heart is,” that’s what they say. For most people the aphorism is applied to an actual home but for restauranteur Ms. Dung Pham home can come to you one spoonful (or chopstick-load) at a time.
Tucked away in a small street in District 9, her restaurant Quan Banh Khot Yoyo (40 Duong 4, Phuoc Binh, D9; 2pm-9pm Monday-Sunday) has recently opened for business selling some of the most authentic banh khot (VND35,000 a dish) in the city. The small crispy rice cakes, topped with whole shrimp and shrimp gratings for extra punch, are a delicacy with many iterations found across the country but Ms. Dung Pham recipe is based on her mother’s cooking. That’s why the food is so special to her, she explains. Banh khot is a family matter, not just a business, and she hopes others will enjoy the dish as much as she does.
It’s a common trait among chefs that they wish to pour some sense of warmth into their creations. The feeling seems perfectly natural, after all most people on Chef’s Table and the like say that they started out watching their mother’s cooking and go to great lengths to describe the satisfaction they feel when a dish is just right. Like a parent, food is a source of comfort. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. Gordon Ramsay seems to bully food till it yields its best flavors and Nigella Lawson has made a business out of soaking her food in titillation.
Ms. Dung Pham belongs to the more orthodox school of cooking. To her, banh khot is family, comfort and childhood. Her memory is jogged by her cooking, she explains, and she takes great pleasure in reminiscing about the occasions when she enjoyed the food that was made for her when she was young. The association has been well documented. Marcel Proust famously managed to set off his magnum opus In Search of Lost Time with a simple catalyst: a madeleine dipped in tea. From there, from that one instant when the small pastry touched his tongue, a deep well of memories opened up and flooded the narrator’s senses, sending him spiralling through childhood traumas, loves and hopes.
I think of this beautiful image as I slosh my banh khot about in chilli flakes and fish sauce. I sadly have no associations with banh khot, having grown up on a diet of cream-meat-and-potato German food, but even without the boon of a trip down memory lane, I can attest that the food at Quan Banh Khot is delightful.
For those willing to make the trip, Quan Banh Khot will prove its quality from the first bite. Ms. Dung Pham’s entrepreneurial spirit and her prowess in the kitchen have produced an establishment with a different sort of flavor. They have their specialty (like all good restaurants) and though you may
leave satisfied after one meal you’ll be sure to be back again.
Images Provided by Ngoc Tran