Banh canh (pronounced “bahn-kahng”) is one of many varieties of Vietnamese cuisine that originated in northern Vietnam.
The dish has its roots in Chinese food, but it was heavily influenced by French colonialists who brought rice farming techniques to Vietnam.
Banh canh is typically eaten as an afternoon meal during the hot season or at any time when you feel like having something cold and refreshing.
Here’s everything you need to know about this delicious and warming dish.
What Are The Ingredients In Banh Canh?
The most important ingredient in banh canh is phở (pronounced “fuh-lay”), which is also known as bún chơm (which means “rice porridge).
Phở contains meat broth, usually chicken, beef, or fish, along with mushrooms, bamboo shoots, cilantro leaves, scallions, bean sprouts, and other vegetables.
It can be served either hot or cold.
Next up on our list is mì xào gà thêu (pronounced “mee kwaa ga tieuh”), which is a Vietnamese version of Western-style french fries.
They have a crispy texture and are often deep fried.
Other items commonly found in banh canh are:
- Vietnamese sausage
- Dried shrimp
- Crispy spring rolls
- Chili sauce
Stirred Vietnamese Noodle Soup Mix
You can buy stir-fried Vietnamese noodles in supermarkets around the world.
You should find them near the refrigerated section.
Stir-fried noodles are long strands of yellowish-white pasta that resemble spaghetti.
They taste great with meats and seafood.
How Do You Make Banh Canh?
If you want to learn how to cook banh canh, there are two main steps involved: preparing the broth and cooking the noodles.
To prepare the broth, you will sautee onions and garlic along with other spices, then add beef bones and water.
Bring this mixture to a boil before adding the remaining ingredients — namely the meat and seafood.
Once all these items have been added, reduce heat and simmer until the flavors blend together.
After the broth simmers, it should be strained into another pot so that you can use it to cook your noodles.
You can also save some of the broth to drink later on.
When making the noodles, soak them in water for 30 minutes before boiling them with salt.
Make sure not to overboil the noodles because they will become hard and chewy if cooked too long.
When done, drain off excess water and serve alongside the rest of the ingredients.
What Is The History Of Banh Canh?
In 1655, Hồ Chí Minh, also known as Ho Chi Minh, was born in Thanh Hóa province, which borders Vietnam’s border with Laos to the north.
He went on to become one of the most famous leaders in modern Vietnamese history, becoming president twice between 1945 and 1969.
Hồ Chí Minh had a love affair with banh cua (the other name for banh canh), saying, “I would go without eating if I could only have banh cua every day!” His wife, Phan Thi Kim Ngoc, also loved banh cua so much she once said, “If there were no banh cua, we wouldn’t be able to live!”
So, banh cua became associated with the country of Vietnam and is now very popular because of its rich cultural heritage.
It’s often referred to as the national dish of Vietnam.
What Are The Different Types Of Banh Canh?
There are several common variations on the classic banh canh recipe, so we’ve broken down all the main categories below.
We have included photos here if possible to help guide you through each step.
You may also want to check out our articles about how to cook Asian chicken wings and Thai green curry paste.
Thịt bò và banh canh (beef and banh canh)
This is the most commonly served version of banh canh because it uses ground beef instead of prawns and squid.
It’s often cooked up as part of a full breakfast menu, which makes it perfect for those who don’t like eating seafood for breakfast.
Bánh canh cháo (stirfried banh canh)
A popular variation of banh canh, cháo means stir-fry.
There are two versions of this style of banh canh: one using only meat, and another using both meat and fish.
Both are equally tasty, although the latter will be slightly less filling than the former.
Chèn đuôi lẩu thịt bò (spicy grilled spareribs)
Spareribs are marinated overnight in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, garlic, ginger, pepper flakes, and other spices before being seared on a grill pan over high heat until they turn golden brown.
Nước mắm súp (shrimp vermicelli soup)
Unlike the other dishes listed above, nước mắm is not a variant of banh canh — it’s actually a completely separate dish.
However, the name is somewhat interchangeable, since the base flavor profile of the two soups is very similar.
Where Does Banh Canh Come From?
Like most dishes in Asian cuisine, banh canh comes from China.
It originates in Northern Vietnam, where it became very popular among fishermen living on riverside islands and fishing villages.
In addition to being a staple of the local diet, it also became a favorite dish for visitors who came to visit these remote locations.
When the French colonized Vietnam in the late 19th century, they introduced new cooking styles such as crepes and pasta.
They also brought their own culinary traditions, which included making a wide range of soups, stews, and other hearty meals that were often served piping hot in large ceramic bowls.
One of those dishes was banh canh.
While there isn’t much written down about how banh canh was first created, it’s believed that the dish evolved out of the many variations of cháo—a thick broth used as a base for rice porridge.
Cháo is usually flavored with lemongrass and other herbs and spices.
Some versions of banh canh include fish sauce, palm sugar, and lime juice, while others have beef or chicken stock instead of water.
Some people add oyster mushrooms, bamboo shoots, dried shrimps, squid, and even crab meat to the mixture.
As banh canh spread throughout the country, cooks began adding fresh greens and pickled veggies to give it flavor and color.
Today, banh canh is considered one of the national foods of Vietnam.
Why is banh canh so good for your health?
Banh canh is a great way to get lots of vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, and antioxidants into your body without all the fat and calories that accompany other kinds of fast food.
How Do You Eat Banh Canh?
There are two main styles of eating banh canh.
You can either have banh canh on pho (which we will get into later), or you can eat banh canh on its own.
If you choose to go with banh canh on its own, there are three common ways to eat it:
- Dry banh canh – When you order banh canh dry, the restaurant usually dries out your banh canh before serving it.
It looks pretty much like dried pasta and is often served with a dipping sauce like nuoc mam cham or nuoc mam gỏi.
2. Boiled banh canh – If you want to try boiled banh canh, then you should look for restaurants that offer boiled banh canh.
They don’t serve it too dry so it doesn’t end up looking like pasta.
3. Steamed banh canh – Finally, if you want steamed banh canh, then you should ask for steamed banh canh.
That way, they won’t add extra water to their banh canh either.
For those that prefer banh canh over pho, here are some things to keep in mind.
When ordering banh canh, be sure to specify how you would like it prepared.
Some places may use broth instead of boiling.
Others might not season the banh canh right after cooking them.
And still others may only cook them once and leave them in the fridge until you take them home.
As with all foods, moderation is key!
What Are Some Popular Banh Canh Dishes?
There are several different types of banh canh, so let’s take a look at what they all contain.
Most banh canh recipes include beef broth, sugar, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, onion, lemongrass, lime juice, pepper, and coriander leaves.
Some also have shredded chicken meat, while others use ground pork instead of beef.
Other ingredients vary depending on how fancy your chef wants to get! You may find recipes calling for mushrooms, bamboo shoots, green mangoes, watermelon radish, and/or cilantro stems.
You can add these extra ingredients if you want, but be careful not to overdo it because some people don’t necessarily enjoy them too much.
Some banh canh recipes call for sliced cucumbers, scallions, carrots, chiles, chili peppers, and jalapeño peppers.
If you like spicy foods, you might want to consider adding those into your bowl.
Depending on where you live, you will probably see other ingredients included in banh canh.
For example, in California, there are many variations of banh canh available, such as banh canh vuon, which uses fresh mint leaves instead of coriander leaves.
In Hawaii, banh cao lau consists of fried tofu, and in Korea, banh canh kimchi includes pickled cabbage.
What Goes Well With Banh Canh?
Banh canh is great served alongside other dishes such as pho, phở, spring rolls, fried chicken, grilled meat, and steamed fish.
You can also enjoy banh canh on top of rice, over white rice, or even inside a tortilla shell!
You can add veggies into your bowl of banh canh.
Some people prefer adding bean sprouts, zucchini, carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers, water chestnuts, mushrooms, radishes, green onions, cabbage, tomatoes, eggplant, snap peas, and bamboo shoots.
Some people prefer adding ground beef, pork shoulder, ham hocks, sausages, and bacon bits into their bowls of banh canh.
If you choose to go this route, be sure to ask if they have cooked the meat before hand so it doesn’t dry out too much.
If you want to try something new while eating banh canh, you should consider tossing in raw shrimp.
It adds a nice crunchy texture and gives your banh canh a unique flavor profile.
Many people add either fresh vermicelli or dried rice noodles into their banh canh bowls.
Fresh noodles will give you a light texture, while dried noodles will create a thicker broth.
To spice up your banh canh, you could include garlic, ginger, lemongrass, chile pepper flakes, sesame seeds, cilantro, basil leaves, scallions, lime juice, soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, sugar, star anise, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, cloves, turmeric powder, curry powder, and/or chili paste.
How Can You Make Banh Canh More Healthy?
Banh canh doesn’t have much fat or cholesterol because most of the oil used in cooking comes from fish sauce.
Also, the dish uses a lot of fresh herbs so there aren’t too many preservatives added into the mix.
In fact, you could say that banh canh is low on salt since it contains almost no seasoning other than fish sauce.
In terms of nutrition, banh canh is pretty nutritious.
It’s high in protein and fiber while also being rich in vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, zinc, selenium, vitamin B6, folate, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, copper, manganese, thiamine, and biotin.
That said, if you want to up your intake of nutrients, you might consider adding some meat into your bowl of banh canh.
Just be sure to choose leaner cuts such as chicken breast over fatty beef brisket or ground beef.
You may even decide to add extra veggies to your bowl instead of using the usual amount of shredded cabbage and carrots.
Tips for making banh canh healthier
If you want to boost the nutritional value of your banh canh, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
You should use whole grains rather than refined ones.
Whole grains contain all three parts of the grain kernel: the germ, endosperm, and bran.
Refined grains only include two parts — the germ and endosperm.
They lack the outer layer known as the bran.
To get the best flavor out of your banh canh, try to avoid deep frying.
Instead, cook your banh canh in a wok or skillet.
If you fry them, they will lose their moisture and become dry and hard.
The same holds true for stir-frying.
For example, if you put raw banh canh in a wok, it will absorb the oil and become soggy.
That means less flavorful.
To ensure that your banh canh stays moist, use just enough water to cover it.
Try to buy frozen vegetable mixes whenever possible.
These pre-made blends usually cost a little bit more per serving but they’re worth every penny.
Not only do they save you time, but they also help reduce waste.
When buying seafood, look for products labeled “deep sea frozen.” Deep sea freezing preserves the seafood longer which results in better quality.
Seafood that has been frozen at shallow depths loses around 10 percent of its weight after six months compared to those that were frozen at 30 meters below the surface where the temperature remains constant throughout the year.
Keep in mind that not all brands of dried mushrooms are created equal.
Some brands are filled with preservatives and artificial flavors.
Make sure that you read labels closely before purchasing.
What Are Some Creative Ways To Eat Banh Canh?
There are so many ways to enjoy banh canh! You may choose to have it as part of your main meal, or perhaps even make it into a side dish.
Here are some ideas for how to incorporate banh canh into other meals:
You could add banh canh to an Asian stir fry or serve it alongside a bowl of pho.
It also works great for breakfast or brunch if you pair it with eggs, bacon, avocado, and cheese on top.
If you want to try out another way to eat banh canh, here are some recipes that you might find helpful.
For dessert, why not combine banh canh with mangoes and coconut milk? Or maybe you prefer banana leaves instead of rice paper rolls?
- 3 lb pork bones
- 3 liters water
- 1 large yellow onion
- 1 tablespoon chicken
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon annatto oil
- 1.5-2 lbs Banh Canh
- 1/2 stick Vietnamese Ham
- 1/2 stick fried fish cakes
- 2 scallions
- Ground black pepper
- When the onion or shallot starts to smell good, bake them in the oven at 400°F for about 15 minutes. To avoid browning the broth, remove any burned parts and set aside.
- (Optional) Blanch the pork bones to remove impurities: Pork bones should be added to a big stockpot along with water to cover by 1 inch. When you see a lot of froth at the top after 10 minutes of boiling the bones, stop. After emptying the pot’s contents into a colander, pour cold water over the bones to clean them. This keeps the stock clear and aids in cleaning the bones. It also aids in eliminating any residual, repulsive pig odor.
- Bring 3 liters of water to a boil in a stockpot (if you are reusing the same stockpot that was used to blanch the bones, make sure to clean the pot thoroughly before adding water for the stock). Include the boiled bones with the onions and shallots. Turn down the heat to the lowest level, cover the pot, and simmer for two hours. Take the onions and pork bones out of the soup and throw them away. When there is still a significant quantity of meat on the bones, I will occasionally leave them.
- Spice up the stock. Add fish sauce, sugar, salt, and powdered mushroom or chicken bouillon. Add annatto oil to the broth to give it an optional red/orange tint.
- As directed on the packaging, prepare the noodles. Add 1/2 teaspoon of sesame seed or vegetable oil and lightly stir the noodles together if they are sticking together.
- Add a few noodles to a bowl and assemble. Add some fried fish cakes and Vietnamese ham slices. Pour in the hot broth. Add cilantro or scallions and some freshly ground black pepper as garnish.