Vietnamese Noodle Soup with Shrimp – Banh Canh Tom
One of the first Vietnamese dishes that I ever mastered on my own, banh canh is a very traditional and simple dish that is one of my favorite comfort foods. Literally translated as “cake soup” banh canh is really the name for the type of noodles found in this soup. Thick, white noodles very similar to that of Japanese udon, these noodles are usually made of a mixture of rice and tapioca flour and when cooked are slightly translucent and chewy.
Unlike udon, banh canh is usually about 2-3 inches long and is easily eaten with a spoon and maybe a little aid from chopsticks. The 2 most traditional preparations for this are banh canh cua (with crab) or banh canh gio heo (with pork hocks). The former having a spicier and typically thicker broth consistency while the latter usually takes several hours to make due to the braising of the pork hocks and the flavorful broth it renders.
Since I usually have neither the time nor the fresh crab meat on hand, I usually make it with shrimp instead, banh canh tom. My mother first taught me how to make this broth ages ago and we use it as a base broth for many other soups. The shrimp cooks up quickly and lends an almost sweet flavor to the broth. The key is to mash or chop up the shrimp to a very fine consistency such that when you fry it, it will cook quickly and have a very light texture with lots of surface area to impart that wonderful flavor to the broth.
Banh canh itself is more and more readily available in most asian supermarkets. There are many different brands out there, but as far as I can tell, they’re all pretty much created equal. I’ve not had one be better than the other. Please make sure you specifically get the package that says banh canh on it and not banh bot loc, etc…it really is a different kind of noodle!
Banh Canh Tom
Adapted by Tastydesu
1/2 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 scallions, chopped, white parts reserved
5 cups water
1 package Banh Canh (vietnamese noodle)***
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 to 1.5 tablespoons sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
Using a large mortar and pestle, smash shrimp along with the white parts of the scallions and some salt and pepper until finely ground. If mortar and pestle are unavailable, you may use the flat of your knife to smash each shrimp and then roughly chop everything together until you have a fine, uniform chop. My mother says this step is important to keep the shrimp light in texture once it’s cooked.
Heat oil over high heat until shimmering. Saute ground up shrimp until no longer pink and slightly browned…about 3 minutes. With heat still on high, add 5 cups of water…remembering to deglaze the pan!
Season broth with sugar, salt, and pepper to taste. Bring to boil, lower heat and allow to simmer about 10 minutes. Add banh canh noodles and continue to cook until noodles are slightly translucent. Remove from heat. Garnish with sliced green parts of scallions and additional pepper. Serve.
***Note: Banh canh is readily available at most asian supermarkets.