In the center of Hanoi there is a series of lakes, with ancient pagodas and monuments that are captivating at any time of the day. At 5:30 in the morning, the lakeshore is packed with Hanoi residents doing tai chi and other morning exercises. On the weekend, the lakes are a popular destination for families who come to admire the pagodas at sunset and eat banh tom. I counted about ten outside cafés that were selling exactly the same prawn cakes to the many passersby, in the same way that a fairground has lots of stalls all selling caramel apples.
– 1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted.
– ⅔ cup rice flour.
– ½ tsp salt.
– ½ tsp baking powder.
– 1 tsp sugar.
– 1 small sweet potato.
– 3 scallions (green onions), thinly sliced.
– 8oz (225g) fresh prawns, peeled, deveined, and cut into ½in (1cm) pieces.
– vegetable oil for frying.
– freshly ground black pepper.
– 1 lime, cut into quarters.
– ½ cucumber, thinly sliced.
– handful of bean sprouts.
– ¼ head of crisp lettuce, such as iceberg.
– 5 sprigs of fresh mint.
– 5 sprigs of fresh cilantro.
– 5 sprigs of Thai basil some arugula (rocket) or watercress Nuac cham dipping sauce.
– 3 small fresh bird’s-eye Thai chilies, seeded.
– and thinly sliced.
– 1 garlic clove, finely chopped.
– 1 tbsp sugar.
– juice of 2 limes.
– 4 tbsp Asian fish sauce.
Step 2: Make the dipping sauce using a pestle and mortar. Crush two-thirds of the chilies with the garlic and sugar until smooth. Add ½ cup warm water. Transfer to a bowl and add the lime juice and fish sauce. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Sprinkle in the remaining chilies and set aside.
Step 3: Heat about 1in (2.5cm) of vegetable oil in a heavy pan. When the oil is shimmering, test to see whether it is hot enough by dropping in a little of the batter. It should bubble and sizzle immediately. Place 2 heaping tablespoons of the prawn batter onto a metal spatula. Pat into an irregular shape about ½in (1cm) thick. Using a metal spoon, ease the prawn cake off the spatula into the oil. Cook in batches of 3 or 4 at a time, turning once, until golden all over. Drain on paper towels and keep warm. To eat, place the lime, cucumber, sprouts, lettuce, herbs, and arugula in individual bowls or on a platter in the center of the table. Wrap a prawn cake in some fresh greens and lettuce, then dip into the sauce.