Why It Works
- Adding tapioca flour to the rice flour batter yields a more elastic, less mushy texture than rice flour alone.
- Cooking the batter before steaming allows starches to set, resulting in a silky, smooth final dumpling.
Once a dish exclusive to Vietnam’s royalty in the former capital Huế, bánh nậm is now a popular dish enjoyed by everyone, served at street stalls and fine dining restaurants alike. This thin, flat, rectangular rice dumpling studded with minced pork and shrimp is wrapped in a tidy banana leaf parcel, similar to central American tamales.
Bánh nậm is an excellent example of how altering a rice flour batter can result in a completely different dish. While it shares the same basic rice flour batter as dishes like bánh xèo (crispy rice flour pancakes), bánh nậm is nothing like its crispy cousins. Here, the batter is first cooked on the stovetop to hydrate and gelatinize the starches—it's ready when mixture thickens to the point of looking like mashed potatoes.
The resulting starchy paste is then spread on sections of banana leaf. On top goes a seasoned filling of cooked ground pork, minced shrimp, wood ear mushroom, and minced scallions (this is one of the more common fillings, though other ingredients and combinations are possible from plain shrimp to different meats and vegetables). The little banana leaf packets are then folded closed and steamed, creating a tender, yet firm dumpling that’s a delight to eat.
The two-stage cooking process is essential to achieve bánh nậm's proper texture—silky, smooth, and gently set. If you were to only cook the rice batter on the stovetop and then serve it, you'd end up with a northern Vietnamese porridge-like dish called bánh đúc, which is ladled into bowls, and topped with fish sauce and similar ingredients as the fillings in these dumplings. If you were, on the other hand, to attempt to steam these dumplings without cooking the rice and tapioca flours first on the stovetop, the batter would be too wet, making packet formation in the banana leaves nearly impossible.
As for the flours, success with bánh nậm hinges on using a combination of both rice flour and tapioca flour. Rice flour alone would produce a dumpling that's mushy and pasty even after steaming the banana leaves. Tapioca flour, known for its chewiness and elasticity, adds needed structure and bite to the dumpling.
While this is not a weeknight recipe, it’s definitely a fun and doable weekend activity to involve the family. Our daughters love wrapping and opening the bánh nậm as much as they do devouring them. We love enjoying bánh nậm as a snack any time of day or on a large platter at a celebratory gathering. A splash of nước chấm, a sprinkling of crispy shallots, and a side of đồ chua complete this perfect bite.
For the Filling:
1 cup dried wood ear mushrooms
2 tablespoons (30ml) store-bought or homemade annatto oil (for homemade, see note)
1 medium shallot, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
3 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
8 ounces (227g) ground pork
8 ounces (227g) finely minced shelled and deveined shrimp
1 teaspoon (5ml) oyster sauce
1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions (from about 1 bunch)
For the Rice Batter:
2 cups (240g) rice flour
1/2 cup (60g) tapioca flour
2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use half as much by volume
2 teaspoons (10ml) neutral oil, such as vegetable or canola oil
To Assemble and Serve:
One 16-ounce (454g) package frozen banana leaves, defrosted, then washed, dried, and cut into 10- by 5-inch rectangles
Nước chấm, for serving
For the Filling: Rinse wood ear mushrooms under cold running water. In a medium bowl, cover mushrooms with hot water and let soak until softened (they will swell significantly and become very flexible with a slight rubbery texture), 15 to 30 minutes. Alternatively, cover with cold water and soak for at least 1 and up to 8 hours. Drain, rinse again to remove any lingering sand or grit, and trim of any tough/woody parts. Mince finely and set aside.
In a large nonstick skillet, heat annatto oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add shallot and garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Increase heat to medium-high, add ground pork and wood ear mushrooms and cook, stirring to break up pork, until pork is browned, about 10 minutes.
Stir in shrimp, oyster sauce, and fish sauce, and season well with salt and pepper. Continue to cook, breaking up any remaining lumps of meat or shrimp, until shrimp is cooked through, about 3 minutes longer. Stir in green onions until well combined, then remove filling from heat and set aside.
For the Rice Batter: In a 2-quart saucepan, stir together rice and tapioca flours, salt, oil, and 6 cups (1.4L) water until well combined. Set over medium-high heat and cook, stirring frequently and scraping bottom of pan to prevent sticking, until batter begins to thicken, 5 to 6 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and continue stirring until you get a loose mashed potato–like consistency, about 4 minutes longer. Remove batter from heat and set aside to cool slightly.
To Assemble: Place a banana leaf rectangle in front of you with the long side perpendicular to you. Portion 2 tablespoons of batter onto the center. Using a silicone spatula, spread batter into a roughly 2- by 4-inch rectangle about 1/8 inch thick.
Scatter roughly 1 heaping teaspoon filling over batter.
Fold one long side of banana leaf over batter and filling followed by the other to close. Next, fold top and bottom flaps over the filling. Set closed packet aside, folded-sides down to prevent them from popping open and repeat with remaining banana leaf rectangles, batter, and filling.
In a steamer basket or bamboo steamer, arrange dumpling packets flat or sideways, making sure to arrange them such that they remain closed. Bring a pot or wok filled with 1 or 2 inches of water to a boil over high heat. Add steamer basket or bamboo steamer, cover, and steam for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool slightly, then enjoy hot or at room temperature with some nước chấm.
Steamer, silicone spatula
To make annatto oil, warm 2 tablespoons (15ml) neutral cooking oil with 1/4 teaspoon annatto seeds on medium heat, stirring occasionally as oil darkens to a red-orange color, 7 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat, then strain and discard seeds.
Make-Ahead and Storage
- Wood ear mushrooms can be soaked up to 6 hours ahead.
- Banana leaf packets can be prepared 2 to 3 days ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container wrapped in a damp paper towel. When ready to cook, pack into steamer and steam for 10 minutes following recipe instructions.
- The filling can be made and stored in the refrigerator 1 to 2 days ahead. Reheat by microwaving for 1 minute or steaming for 5 minutes.
- Un-steamed dumpling packets can be frozen in an airtight container for up to 3 months. To cook from frozen, steam for 15 minutes.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 8 to 10|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 8g||11%|
|Saturated Fat 2g||9%|
|Total Carbohydrate 30g||11%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||5%|
|Total Sugars 2g|
|Vitamin C 2mg||9%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|