It is really hard to resist the attraction of Vietnamese’s cuisine. From simple Banh Mi, to grilled ribs to Com Tam, each meal has a special allure. This week I went to try the delightful Grilled Bananas (Chuoi Nuong) as dessert. Along with Banh Xeo, chuoi nuong was placed in the list of Top 20 Street Food Masters of the Year at the World Street Food Congress (2013). So, I couldn’t not try it.
WHAT IS GRILLED BANANAS (CHUOI NUONG)
In the diverse spectrum of Vietnam’s many desserts, grilled bananas stand out because of its distinctive taste and the perfect combination of banana and coconut milk. Chuoi nuong simply means grilled banana (or barbecued banana J). However, it isn’t the normal type of banana – it has to be “chuoi su”, a special type of banana. Shorter, softer and looks pretty chubby, chuoi su brings you a really unique taste after it is grilled. And the most important factor deciding a good chuoi nuong is the coconut milk. The recipe to make an excellent coconut milk is kept secret. Generally, coconut milk is just coconut water cooked with sugar and extracted coconut meat. Those are the main ingredients, but people have their own secret ingredients to add in and turn it into a luscious, delicious liquid.
And the most important factor deciding a good chuoi nuong is the coconut milk.
The dish originally came from the Western region of Vietnam (Mekong Delta) where bananas are grown everywhere. There are 2 main ways chuoi nuong is served: you can find plain grilled banana, or you can also find grilled banana covered with sticky rice (chuoi nep nuong). No matter what you get, you will still get it served with coconut milk and some dried sesame or peanuts. And also, cassava root and steamed banana are usually optional selections that you can add to your experience.
It is very easy to make a grilled banana. The plain grilled banana is made by just simply removing the cover, putting in on the barbecue grill and turning side to side. That is to make sure it is grilled evenly. When it is done, put it on a plate, push down on it softly in order to make the banana softer and sweeter, and then cut it into pieces. The last step is to pour the coconut milk on it and voila, you are ready.
If you wanna make the grilled banana with sticky rice, there are just a few extra steps. You first cook the sticky rice, cover the banana with it, use a piece of banana leaf which is big enough to cover your banana and then grill these together. The banana leaf will protect the sticky rice from being burned and keep the moisture of the rice within the mixture. When the sticky rice turns brown, remove the leaf, cut it into smaller pieces and then it is ready to take a bath in the coconut milk. Now let’s dig in.
WHERE TO FIND GRILLED BANANAS IN VIETNAM
Banana can be found nationwide, but a good chuoi nuong won’t be available everywhere. Only Southerners know how to make an outstanding coconut milk to eat with the grilled banana. You can find chuoi nuong in Saigon and other provinces in the Mekong Delta such as Can Tho or My Tho.
BEST CHUOI NUONG IN SAIGON
1. Chuoi nuong Ut Lua, 115 Phan Dang Luu, Phu Nhuan district, HCMC
Chuoi nuong Ut Lua has been operating for more than 20 years and took part in the International Food Festivals that took place in Singapore, China, and the Philippines. The place was named after the lady’s nickname: Ut. She is a nice and strong woman who has sold chuoi nuong to earn money for her son to go to school. After 20 years of operating, be that it may, she has 3 chuoi nuong branches in Saigon, three of them are very well-known and she is having more and more customers queuing in every day to have her chuoi nuong. The chuoi nuong here is soft with unforgettable coconut milk.
2. Chuoi nuong 378 Vo Van Tan, District 3, HCMC
Chuoi nuong 378 Vo Van Tan is another place with amazing chuoi nuong. This place has been running for over 10 years by a group of 3 old ladies. Opening from 7 am to 9 pm, this chuoi nuong place is estimated to sell more than 1 thousand bananas daily. They only have 2 type of chuoi nuong here: plain banana and the sticky rice banana. If you want to order from here without waiting in line, avoid coming here from 5 pm to 7 pm. That’s peak time.
3. Chuoi nuong 122 Tran Dinh Xu, District 1, HCMC
This place used to be located in front of 115B Tran Dinh Xu. And now it has moved to 122 Tran Dinh Xu by the beginning of May 2017. As a matter of fact, this place is a favorite of many expats living in the area and also students in schools nearby. In the same way, the lady has many options for you to choose and the coconut milk here is thick with amazing taste. No wonder people get addicted to her chuoi nuong. Opening time is from 2:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
HOW TO EAT GRILLED BANANAS
Chuoi nuong is served hot and should be eaten hot to fully feel the temptation of the delicious coconut milk and the softness of the grilled banana. Before you take a bite into a delicious banana goodness, make sure you mix up the ingredients well. And don’t feel afraid to add a lot of coconut milk because in fact, it only makes it better. Sesame seeds or peanuts are definitely a plus. Other than that, go to town! Let your tongue enjoy the mix of flavors. Don’t forget to ask for seconds 😉
Name of the dish: Chuoi Nuong
Price: 15.000 – 20.000 VND for a cup of grilled banana
Opening time: from 2.30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Address: Chuoi nuong 122 Tran Dinh Xu, District 1, HCMC
More from the Saigon Street Food series: Saigon Street Food: Vietnamese Pancake (Banh Xeo)
Enjoy eating Vietnamese food and wanna know some more fun info on certain dishes such as com tam, banh trang nuong, bot chien, banh cuon, mi hen, the amazing bun mi vang and bun do? Or check this article out if you are on any special dietary. Find these and more at the Christina’s blog!