Banh trang tron is a hodge-podge salad-type creation that I’ve only encountered in street food form. Whereas most of Saigon’s pavement eats are sold on some sort of rolling metal cart, banh trang tron is sold exclusively by conical hat-donning women carrying weighty baskets over their shoulders.
The surest sign that you’ve stumbled upon a banh trang tron dealer is the small hoard of business suit-clad women crouching around her baskets waiting for their take of the stuff.
The base of the dish is banh trang (rice paper), which are cut into strips and kept dry as a bone. A packet of flavoring agents that includes chili powder and MSG are added to the banh trang strips. Next, an abundance of fresh rau ram (Vietnamese coriander) is torn into the mix, followed by a squeeze of sour Vietnamese kalamansi juice and hard boiled quail eggs. The vendor combines (tron) the ingredients with her hands and serves up a portion in a plastic bag with two skewers serving as makeshift chopsticks.
Even though banh trang tron is a painfully dry dish, it manages to meld all of the ingredients into a cohesive flavor. Although edible, it’s just not all that appealing, especially the clumps of chili powder. The Astronomer conjectures that this dish was thought up during an era of extreme poverty to spruce up plain old rice paper. I think he may be on to something.
Ingredients (serve 4-6)
For dried beef liver:
250g (0.55 lb) beef liver, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tbsp minced shallot (or spring onion, white part only)
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp five-spice powder
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/2 tsp chicken stock (optional)
10pcs Rice paper, shredded
1 green mango
1/2 cup beef jerky (thit bo kho), shredded
1/2 cup seasoned and grilled dried squid (Muc tam gia vi), shredded
1/2 cup seasoned and grilled dried fish (ca kho nuong), shredded
1/4 cup dried small shrimps
1 cup Vietnamese mint (rau ram), chopped
10 hard-boiled quail eggs
2 tbsp crispy fried shallot, fried garlic
1/4 cup crushed peanuts
lime/ kumquat juice
In a large bowl, combine liver, garlic, shallot, soy sauce, five-spice powder, sugar, pepper, chicken stock. Mix well and let marinate for at least 2 hours or overnight in the fridge.
In a pan or a wok on medium-high heat, add in 1 tbsp vegetable oil and stir-fry marinated liver for 2-3 minutes until it is no longer pink and gets firmer.
Remove each cube of liver into baking pan lined with aluminium foil. Keep the left-over sauce in the pan
Bake liver cubes in a preheated oven at 150°C / 300°F for 45 minutes. Rotate the cubes on different side after every 10 minutes to help it dehydrate faster.
Liver turns dark color when it is dehydrated. Let cool and slice into smaller pieces.
To make salad dressing, add 1/2 cup water into the left-over sauce, plus 2-3 tbsp soy sauce to taste. Then simmer on low heat for 1-2 minutes.
In a salad bowl, combine shredded rice paper, all salad items and mix well with chili sauce, lime juice and salad dressing. Shredded rice paper will get more elastic when it absorbs the liquid in the dressing. It’s better to make each serving portion separately.