This is no stranger in the Vietnamese food biz: the layered pastry that gets its name from looking like pork belly, except green and yellow. Of course it doesn’t contain any pork skin, it’s sweet, sometimes may even be too sweet. Dad used to buy a whole pie home, as big as a platter and as warm as a father’s hand. From that same bakery somewhere in the market alley, he would buy bánh chuối nướng (bread pudding) too, which I always preferred to the bánh da lợn. But thinking back on those days when we lived near Bà Chiểu Market, it was certainly the best pig skin pie I ever ate.
Many years have passed, and many bánh da lợn have been eaten by me, both in its homeland and across the seas. The best way, I figured, to slaughter these chewy beasts is to peel off the layers one by one, when it’s warm. That wet, smooth skin of tapioca flour, when warm, is fragile. You don’t want to break it while peeling, and you want to drop it whole in your mouth to wrestle with its resilience, all the while inhaling the sweetness of pandan leaves and vanilla fused in its tone.
Simply put, a cold “pig skin” is a dead “pig skin”. A warm mung bean paste layer is also less sweet than a cold one, and thank goodness the bean layers are always one fewer than their tapioca neighbors. The pies Dad bought from that market bakery would have white chewy layers too, and the green ones didn’t look radioactive green like those we get from sandwich shops these days. Ah marketing strategies, just like somewhere in Vietnam someone thought of calling it “bánh chín tầng mây” (cloud nine pie) (because pork skin doesn’t ring any two-cent poetic sound), or when the tapioca layer turns dark purple, because of either magenta plant‘s leaf extract or food coloring, and the bean layer light purple because of taro.
Whatever the case, the original bánh da lợn is still the best. I looked through 51 pages of Google search for its origin, which seems likely lost through generations of home cooking and street food mingling. You see, it was never really a praiseworthy, historically recorded invention in the kitchen. There’s no village or province associated with the best bánh da lợn. It’s probably from the South, even if “lợn” is the Northern word for “pig”. It’s a product from a steamer, it’s cheap, it has texture, kids like it, Dad likes it. That’s all I know.
And by the way, Alpha Bakery & Deli sells some good, thinly sliced, warm numbers for a buck fifty.
Address: Alpha Bakery & Deli (inside Hong Kong City Mall)
11209 Bellaire Blvd # C-02
Houston, TX 77072-2548