The name of the dish contains its ingredients as well as its instructions. Banh trang is the rice paper, thit heo is the pork belly meat, and cuon is the roll it all goes in.
The pork in banh trang cuon thit heo is selected for its balance between meat and fat. It is lightly seasoned and then boiled until tender, cut into sliver-thin slices, plated, and presented alongside the vegetables. Unlike the pork, the vegetables in banh trang cuon thit heo are eaten raw. The assortment of fresh vegetables can vary, but usually includes some combination of lettuce leaves, cucumber slices, perilla, thai basil, banana blossoms, mint, and coriander. Finally, a plate of rice flour noodles is served alongside the pork and the vegetables. The very last addition to the dish is the dipping sauce, itself a local treasure.
A Quang Nam delicacy, mam nem is a fermented fish sauce used as a dipping sauce when nuoc mam just won’t do. A plate of banh trang cuon thit heo is exactly one of those occasions. Made of fermented anchovies, sugar, Thai chili pepper, garlic, lemongrass, sugar, and crushed pineapples, mam nem is an irreplaceable companion to banh trang cuon thit heo. While ordinary nuoc mam is strained into a dark and salty liquid, mam nem uses whole fermented anchovies and is more like a paste than a liquid. If you’re new to Vietnamese cuisine, the salty, funky, fishy flavor of mắm nêm will be an adventure - the taste is like nothing else in this world!
First, spread a piece of rice paper out flat. You can use a plate for simplicity’s sake, but with a bit more practice and patience, it can be easier to gently cup rice paper in the palm of your hand to creating a kind of bowl or taco shape. Before adding any meat or vegetables, peel a layer of rice flour noodles (a bit like uncut strips of pho) and place it on top of the rice paper. The two layers should stick together. Top the banh trang and the rice flour with thit heo and an assortment of vegetables and herbs (rau an song) and roll it up! Dip one end of your roll into the mắm nêm and enjoy as the myriad flavors and textures combine into one balanced symphony of a snack.
Try out the banh trang cuon thit heo at any one of these local restaurants. Once you’re hooked, you can go through the list and try them all, comparing different flavor variations.
Quan Ba Mua and Quan Dai Loc are the two most popular restaurants serving this specialty dish in Da Nang. Ba Mua is nestled right in Hai Chau, the beating heart of Da Nang City, while Đai Loc is situated just a few minutes away in Thanh Khe. Dac San Tran is a convenient alternative to either option, with four locations scattered throughout Hai Chau and Thanh Khe.