There is something about a grandparents’ cooking that completely changes the dish. Whether it be the touch of their delicate or coarse hands sculpted through years of experience, or the unconditional love for their grandchild put into every chop, no food hits the same. Growing up, I had many fond memories of the family at Grandma’s house eating home-cooked Vietnamese food that was, in my opinion, leveled with restaurant food. In her small, one-story bungalow, we had somehow managed to fit sixteen people around a dining table and plenty of food to go around. My grandma, who at one point in her life owned a restaurant, always made the best food. Now it was no surprise that her children and even grandchildren wanted to learn her recipes and replicate them for themselves.
My absolute favourite food growing up was called Bánh bột lọc, a chewy, clear dumpling filled with shrimp and pork topped with spring onion, fried shallots, and of course, fish sauce (a Vietnamese staple). My childhood birthday parties, and pretty much every large family function would always serve two huge trays of those delicious dumplings.
Shown: Bánh bột lọc dish instagram: @theblindcook
At the start of March 2020, I made it my mission to master this dish. Needless to say, one try was not enough. One trip to Grandma’s and I was lost in a sea of “add just a little bit”’s and “do this until it looks right”s. Through a combined effort that involved me being absolutely carried by my grandma, we were able to produce a very tasty batch of Bánh bột lọc. With the ambiguous recipe given only by someone who knows their way around a kitchen, I tackled it solo(and what a humbling experience it was). Dumpling wrapper dough that took 10 minutes to make with my grandmother took around 2 hours on my own. Tapioca. Flour. Is. So. Hard. To. Work. With. Now, I am not an expert chef so with this as one of my first experiences with tapioca flour, I was left frustrated. However, after a long struggle to get my dough adequate enough to hold and not be too sticky, I ran out of tapioca flour and mixed in… mochi flour. These are the results of that first attempt from September 2020:
Not the best, but a start. A few tries after that led to a slight improvement, but I was far from mastering the dish. In December 2021, over a year later, I decided to try to make the dumplings again for a fourth time. Obviously, I reached out to my grandma for pointers. Here is what I got as a response:
Now, the attempt:
First came the filling. I gathered the necessary ingredients: pork shoulder, shrimp, shallots, garlic, salt, pepper, and sugar. I’ve made these dumplings with both pork shoulder and ground pork, and the shoulder definitely tastes better, but ground pork is also good if convenience is a priority.
You’ll want to cut up your garlic and shallots as well as the shrimp and pork. The meat pieces should be relatively small; the pieces I had been slightly too big, but that just meant I had to scale my dumplings up.
Now it’s time to cook the filling. Add some oil to a medium saucepan and put it on medium heat. When oil is hot enough, sauté your shallots and garlic until they’re a golden brown colour. Then, add in your pork only as well as the salt, pepper, and sugar for seasoning. Don’t completely cook the pork chunks; it should be just barely cooked when you remove the pan from the heat. Remember, you’re going to be cooking it again later on. Once the filling is cooked, find a container to store the filling (I used an old takeout container). Layer the raw shrimp and pork, and mix to ensure an equal spread of the shrimp across pork. Store the filling in the fridge for 30 minutes, or until it is chilled. I stored mine overnight.
When making the dumpling wrapper, make sure to work on a nice clean surface that is lightly floured. As stated before, working with tapioca flour is difficult (at least for me) because you have to work with it with boiling hot water. Start by boiling some water for the dough. At the same time, you’ll want to prepare a pot with water at medium to high heat to cook the dumplings in. Measure out 400g of tapioca flour or the flour shown in the photo into a boil with a pinch of salt and a drizzle of oil.
If you don’t have the flour in the photo, that is okay! Tapioca flour works well too. I’ve made the recipe with both and the difference isn’t too noticeable. You can find both flours at any local Asian mart. I bought mine from T&T.
With your measured out flour, add 100ml of boiling hot water and immediately start mixing with your spatula. This step can get messy depending on if your dough is too hard or soft, which you adjust by either adding more flour or hot water. Once the dough has roughly formed, you can turn it onto a surface and begin kneading it until it is smoothened out and no flour lumps are left. The dough should be smoothened and you should be able to press your finger into it without too much resistance. Once you’re satisfied, wrap it in saran wrap to help it maintain moisture.
To actually make the dumpling, take out a small piece of the dough, roll it into a sphere then flatten. You’ll want to make a small circle and place a bit of the filling inside then fold the wrapper in, making sure to pinch the edges and seal off the dumpling. Mine is slightly rough but as I said, I’m on a long road to mastery. Once the dumpling is done, toss it in the pot of hot water and wait until it is cooked. You’ll know when you can see the pink of the shrimp, the dumping floats to the top, and the wrapper becomes clear or translucent.
Once they’re out of the pot, make sure to generously coat in spring onion oil. I made mine by slicing up some spring onions, putting them in a microwave-safe bowl with oil, and then microwaving the bowl for 30-40 seconds to let the flavour infuse. But, we are not done yet. The dumplings are still naked. I top mine off with deep-fried shallots and the family’s signature fish sauce.
And the finished product?
Still, a long way to go, but this was better than my previous attempts and still tasted really good. Overall, it was a fun activity to do over the break having a fully stocked kitchen and all my tools at home.
I’ve come a long way in a year, which hopefully means next year I can look back at this moment too. Food is a universal love language and while growing up, that is how my grandparents expressed their love for their many grandchildren. Maybe it’s the same for some of you out there, so what better time than now to start learning those recipes that made your childhood great?