Banh it ram (fried sticky rice dumplings, pork belly, mung bean, shrimp) is the lesser known cousin of banh it tran, though both are central Vietnam regional specialties. The main difference between the two is that banh it ram sits on a layer of glutinous rice that is then fried golden brown and crisp on the outside, but the inside is still deliciously chewy, toothy, and soft–a great contrasting texture. How this dish came to be we have no idea–personally we think some banh it tran makers back in Vietnam had too much dough left over and wanted a way to use it without throwing it away–you know how frugal Vietnamese are! Regardless, it’s an ingenious combination. Top with some minced shrimp and nuoc mam cham and you’ve got a really tasty and texturally amazing little appetizer.
The technique is identical to our banh it tran recipe with a few added steps. First you need to make the rice layer for the dumpling to sit on. Being pseduoscientific, we rolled some the glutinous rice dough into a thin string and then coiled it into a circle–the thinking is that there’s more surface area to be crispy! But to be honest, it probably wasn’t necessary and you can simply make a thin flat disk and it would work just as well.
Banh It Ram Fried Sticky Rice Dumplings
- 16 oz bag of glutinous rice powder (bot nep)
- 1 2/3 cups water
- 1 ts salt
- 1/2 lb small to medium shrimp, cleaned, deshelled and deviened cut into small 1/4-1/2 inch pieces (save about 3-4 tbs for garnishing on top of the dumpling)
- 1/4 lb pork belly cut into small 1/4 to 1/2 inch pieces (you can substitute leaner cuts if you like)
- 2 ts fish sauce
- 2 ts sugar
- 2 ts pepper
- 1 ts dark soy sauce
- 1/2 cup split mung beans, soaked in water for at least 4 hrs or best overnight
- 1 scallion, thinly sliced
- cooking oil
- fried shallots
- nuoc mam cham and pickled carrots and daikon
Marinate the shrimp with 1 ts fish sauce, sugar, pepper and set aside for about 20 mins. Marinate the pork with 1 ts fish sauce, sugar, pepper, and dark soy sauce also for about the same time. In a large pan at medium high heat, saute the pork belly first. No oil is needed here as there’s plenty of fat in the belly. When it’s about 1/2 way done, add shrimp but not the garnishing shrimp. Saute until both are done and set aside. Then toss in reminder of the 3-4 tbs of shrimp and saute until done. When cool, mince in a mortar and pestle or finely mince with knife and set aside.
Make the scallion oil by heating a few tbs cooking oil such as olive oil and adding the scallions just to wilt and set aside.
You can either steam or boil the mung beans. We prefer steaming it since we don’t like to stand in front of a pot and stirring (use only enough water just to cover the beans). Steam mung beans until you can easily smash the grain with your fingers. The longer you soak in water, the quicker it will steam–if overnight about 15 minutes. When done, transfer to bowl or mortar and smash into a paste with rubber spatula.
Now in mixing bowl, incorporate the mung bean paste, shrimp and pork together. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Allow to cool and form small balls, about quarter size and set aside. This can all be done a day in advance.
In separate mixing bowl, combine glutinous rice flour with salt and mix. Work it into a pliable play dough like texture. Be patient–it’ll come together. The dough is too wet when it’s soft and sticky–you can add a bit more flour or let it air dry for about 10 minutes. It’s easier to work with a slightly dryer dough. When working with the dough, if it starts to break from being too dry, just add a bit more water.
Pinch off dough and roll into small golf ball size and flatten into a round disk. Add the ball of filling in the center and fold over the edges and roll gently, sealing it. Use some all purpose flour on your hands if you find it too sticky. You can keep a small bowl of water on hand and using your wet fingers seal off any cracks. For photos of this process, see the che xoi nuoc recipe. Keep the formed dumplings on a clean dry surface such as a cookie tray or cutting board and don’t let them touch.
Make sure you save enough dough to make the rice cakes the dumpling sits on. Again, no need to roll it into a string like we did–a thin 1/4 inch or so round cake will do. Make a gentle indentation and wet the center of the cake and gently push down to seal.
In a large pot, being careful not to overcrowd, boil dumpling until they rise–remove from water and allow each to drain dry–a large tray covered with plastic wrap would work, but don’t let them touch as it’s very sticky.
Make sure the dumplings are completely dry before frying. In a large saute pan heat up on medium high only enough oil so that it just covers the top of the rice cake. Fry until golden brown and remove and drain on paper towels. Plate and top with minced shrimp and scallion oil and serve with nuoc mam cham and pickled carrots and daikon.
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