Instead of choosing among a few dozen types and brands of cereal, the traditional Vietnamese children choose among a few dozen kinds of stuff made of rice flour and often containing meat for the morning energizer. Meat and rice in the morning, what? You must be be kidding… Well… we have breakfast croissant, breakfast burrito, breakfast sausage and cheese biscuit, sausage and cheese kolache, pancake with sausage and/or bacon and definitely butter, and probably more things out there with meat and dairy. The only difference is rice and wheat, but unless you count your calorie intakes and all, grain is grain.
Banh cuon certainly doesn’t have any cheese or butter in it. I’m still waiting for the day McDonald comes up with MacBanhCuon (MaCuon, maybe?), then banh cuon will have cheese, egg, sausage, and bacon, probably pickles too, but I think the flour sheet is too delicate to be mass produced like the buns. Anyway, I digress. My schooldays back then often started with pho, hu tiu (a noodle soup with pork instead of beef and slightly sweet broth), banh cuon, and occasionally when I was young we had banh gio. There’s not much I could remember about it because it was rare to find a street vendor with trustworthy cleanliness, and it was rare, if ever, to find a store selling banh gio. Yes, it is almost exclusively street food, until it gets to America.
We got our banh gio from a small food shop in Bellaire, downtown Houston, named Gio Cha Duc Huong. A triangular cylinder is its basic shape, a thick coat of rice flour with ground pork and minced woodear mushroom inside, with a little bit wandering too close out to be visible. In all splendor the banh gio is a coarser, thicker, chubbier, more stern and fulfilling version of a roll of banh cuon. I know what it is made of, and I know it is boiled, but I have no idea how they put the liquid mixture of rice flour and water outside a few spoonfuls of meat stuffing to form a pudding wrapped and cooked in banana leaves. The flour coat is bland, but the stuffing makes up for it just right. No condiment is needed, and I don’t know if it has ever been eaten with any kind of condiment. The whole package is somewhat like a student who just pulled an allnighter, rather easily shattered and just collapses in your mouth. A spoon would be much more useful than a fork, and I can’t imagine using chopsticks with this. But its endurance is remarkable: it was made and cooked the same day we bought, it stayed good in the fridge three days later, and its twin brother stayed good one day later at room temperature.
Banh gio is a kind, guileless meal. Unless you eat 3 in one sitting or something oversize like that, it won’t make you feel like carrying a stone around the rest of the day. Its lightness will never betray you.
Sold at most banh mi stores in the States.