While visiting South Vietnam, one of the awesome day trips I took through Urban Adventures was to the Mekong Delta. It was a two-hour drive outside of Saigon and a fun-filled day of boating on the river, an open-air motor taxi ride through the winding, lush, tropical back roads, eating a freshly prepared, traditional, Vietnamese lunch and seeing how locals in the area use coconuts to produce candy and other food items.
One of my favorite parts of the trip was going on a gondola ride through the maze of waterways in the dense, green jungle. It was so beautiful with such unique vegetation and just a very peaceful, serene experience. It is something I will never forget.
During our visit to see how the local coconut candy was produced, we were given samples of some of the many different items they use to make out of coconuts. My favorite item was the ginger flavored one which I would describe as a caramel texture, with a subtle coconut and strong ginger flavor. There are actually pieces of ginger in the candy which is what made the real difference. Boo, I wish I bought a lot more of it! But the real winner of the day was when I tried something I wasn’t really expecting anything from. It is called Banh Kep Ngo Tranh (don’t ask me how to pronounce that….I have no clue).
My new Australian friend from the trip, Hanh, had me try this item and it is something I would categorize as a cookie. It had a very light and flaky outer shell that is made from coconut but has the texture and look of a waffle cone. The coconut waffle cookie is then filled with a thin layer of peanut butter paste, so in a way, it is the Vietnamese version of the Nutter Butter cookie.
There is more….and this is where I tend to lose people. There are actually two thin layers of the coconut waffle cookie part and between them is something so unusual and so random, you just don’t think it could possibly be good with the other ingredients; cilantro. Yup, there is a piece of green cilantro magically placed between the layers of the waffle cookie so that you can actually see it. It almost looks like a little plant or tree was painted on the cookie itself.
So now imagine, the crumbly, flaky waffle part with a subtle coconut flavor, the rich taste of peanut butter and the complex hint of cilantro all in one bite. I know it sounds random, but you really have to trust me on this one and just try it. It is such a unique combination and I totally fell in love with it. So much so, that while I was shopping at the Ben Thanh Market back in Saigon, I nearly let out a shriek when I saw these cookies being sold in the market. I was so ecstatic that I bought a bunch to bring home for my family to try.
Their reaction? They all intently listened as I described the ingredients in the cookie and then all proceeded to make a weird face when they heard me say cilantro. Sadly, my brother refused to try it (his loss) and I am still kind of annoyed at him for not just taking a bite! My mom and dad both hesitantly tried it and actually really liked it. I wouldn’t say they initially loved it like I did, but it’s my parents….they are pretty picky eaters. I think it sort of grew on them though because I caught both of them snacking on one the next day. I figured that was the tell-tale sign that they liked it too!
p.s. I just found them on-line! The English term is the white coriander waffle with peanut butter. Go figure.