I rounded out the end of 2015 at a lovely dinner chatting up a storm with new and old friends. We talked about places we’d like to travel, how we began cooking and memories that resonated with us from childhood. As the conversation progressed, I told a story that to me, seemed like a normal memory, but I quickly realized how much it is a cherished one.
I always had parents who worked opposite schedules growing up. Because they immigrated to America during the Vietnam War at a young age, they had an upbringing that instilled hard work at all hours of the day, no matter the wealth attained. I know this because my mother found it interesting that I didn’t work weekends (obviously this was before I began freelancing) and stated with no doubt that working through the weekends would provide immensely more opportunities in the future. Don’t tell her, but she’s right.
Growing up in Vietnam, it is quite common to have dinners as a family. My parents kept up with the tradition by making every effort to eat together when lunch and dinner time came. This also meant packing up our foods and taking it to my dad at 8 p.m., since he worked nights.
To give you a visual, packing up food to my mother did not consist of Tupperware. Rather, it was pretty normal to see us all walking up to the welding shop where my dad worked with platters of Vietnamese foods hidden beneath tin foil. Yes, nuoc cham came along to top banh xeo. Chopsticks were broken out to enjoy home-cooked banh beo. Anything my mom could whip up, it was coming along for the ride.
So we could eat together, my dad would skip the lunch room and have us sit just outside the main workspace. A huge facility, the building had towering garage-like doors that stayed open at night, giving us a nice breeze. Believe it or not, a welding shop has plenty to offer for tables and seating. Buckets were flipped upside down to create makeshift chairs, with one extra, sometimes with a board on top, to serve as a dinner table. Yep, that was dinner time for us many nights, and I wouldn’t trade that memory.
In honor of such a fond experience and family meals, which I continue this day even with just Ben and myself, I made some banh beo to share. Delicate rice cakes topped with toasted minced shrimp and scallion oil, banh beo will always remind me of dinners at the welding shop.
- 3 cups rice flour
- 1 cup tapioca flour
- 5 cups water
- pinch of salt
- 15 large cooked shrimp, minced
- 4 stalks green onions, chopped
- vegetable oil
- In a bowl, whisk together all the rice cake ingredients and allow to sit for a minimum of 4 hours.
- Add water to a steamer and bring to a simmer.
- Spray several small shallow bowls or a banh beo tray with nonstick spray. Whisk the rice cake batter and fill each bowl or tray cavity with batter. If using bowls, add just enough to create 1/8-inch thick cakes. If using a banh beo tray, fill close to the top of each cavity. Transfer the cakes to the steamer, cover with the lid and steam until firm, about 4 minutes. Remove the cakes from the bowls or tray and place on a plate; cover with plastic wrap. Repeat the process until all the batter is used.
- In a pan, toast the shrimp until dry and bright orange. Set aside.
- In a small pot, add the green onions and just enough oil to cover the scallions. Heat on medium until the onions become soft.
- Serve the banh beo topped with the scallion mixture and shrimp.