Food File: Bot Chien (Vietnamese Carrot Cake)
Bot chien (or bột chiên with the appropriate tone markers) is usually translated as “fried flour” but it is more like Singapore’s carrot cake or Southern China’s turnip or radish cake.
The main ingredient in bot chien is rice flour, but the cooking technique and the garnishes make this dish so much more.
I have to admit the first time I tried bot chien many years ago it was definitely not love at first bite. That bot chien was a chewy gluggy oily thing. Thank you so much, random street food vendor.
Luckily for me, Darling Man forced me to try bot chien again during a street food research excursion into Ho Chi Minh City’s District 3. (We are planning to start a new street food tour soon, in and around the parts of the city Darling Man frequented when he was a student.)
The bot chien we tried was so good that I complained long and loud at having to share a plate. I insisted we go back to the same bot chien vendor the following night and this time I did not share.
We decided to compare “our” bot chien vendor’s version with a dish from the nearby bot chien alley and we discovered our bot chien vendor really is very good!
According to Darling Man, what makes our bot chien so much better than the rest is the use of sticky rice flour instead of plain ol’ rice flour, which gives the outside some extra crunch.
The rice flour is used to make a batter, which is cooked once — usually steamed — then cut into squares and fried. As the bot chien squares begin to brown, some lightly-beaten eggs are poured into the pan.
Once the eggs are cooked, a few handfuls of diced shallots are thrown on top, then a giant pair of scissors is used to cut the mass into bite-sized pieces.
Bot chien is served with a big clump of shredded green paw paw/papaya on top and a small dipping bowl full of the Vietnamese all-purpose dipping sauce called nước chấm beside. The key to heavenly bot chien is not to dip your squares into the bowl, but to upend the bowl over your carrot cake so the nước chấm becomes a dressing.
* Ho Chi Minh City’s bot chien alley is the hẻm at 306 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street that runs through to Vo Van Tan Street in District 3.
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9 years ago