The Bánh Xèo of Saigon

Not many people seem to care much for Vietnamese cuisine, but considering it has given the world the likes of Bánh mì, Chả Lụa, AND Gỏi Cuốn, maybe we should take a little more time to appreciate the culinary expressions of this fascinating country. My favourite Vietnamese dish, however, would have to be the Bánh Xèo, which is a fried pancake usually stuffed with fatty pork, shrimp, diced green onion, and bean sprouts.

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Another name for Bánh Xèo is “sizzling cake”, and this is due to the loud sizzling noises it makes when the rice batter is poured into the hot skillet. Southern-style bánh xèo, which can be found prominently in Saigon, contains coconut milk. They are served wrapped in mustard leaf, lettuce leaves or banh trang wrappers, and stuffed with mint leaves, basil, fish leaf and/or other herbs, and dipped in a sweet and sour diluted fish sauce. It is widely believed that this dish is a derivative of crepes brought over by the French during the colonial era.

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The kind of Bánh Xèo you will find on the streets of Saigon are larger and thinner than Bánh Xèo from the northern and central parts of Vietnam. In fact, I noticed that in places like Hue and Da Nang, Bánh Xèo is actually fried in the pan with its whole face showing, rather than fried in a half-moon shape, for which it is famous down south. I loved watching the crepes being grilled in front of my eyes as I stood and waited for my purchase. It’s kind of like how kai yang (grilled chicken) is prepared on the streets of Bangkok, as if it’s made to order specifically for you. This whole on-the-spot process guarantees its warmth and freshness, which is very important for the taste and texture of Bánh Xèo.

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Despite not always fancying seafood for my meals, I did have a delicious prawn Bánh Xèo during my time in Saigon, and it came with plenty of beansprouts, salad, and dipping sauce (I think the sauce is called Nuoc Cham). Ever since I began learning about Vietnamese cuisine, I have loved the idea of eating the Bánh Xèo, and now I think it is my favourite kind of crepe – even more delightful than the likes of okonomiyaki from Japan, dosa from Myanmar and India, or even the durum wraps from Turkey!

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7 thoughts on “The Bánh Xèo of Saigon

  1. Mmm, they are so fantastic! Although I have to say that I’m loving Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki in particular here- I’m not sure if I could choose between the two countries’ offerings!

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    1. It’s always difficult to choose, Holly, but me personally, I like the fact that Vietnamese food is not too widely consumed (certainly not in Europe anyway) and this makes it more of an adventure to me when eating it! Anything but snakes!

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      1. Interesting- I wonder if it’s more popular in Canada. There are at least a few Vietnamese places in the larger cities, and quite a few in Toronto! I agree that it’s fun to try more obscure dishes. Although I’d had lots of sushi and udon, I’d never even heard of okonomiyaki before coming to Japan! It was a fun discovery. Do you prefer the Osaka or Hiroshima variety?

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        1. I think I would have to say the Osaka version, as I didn’t try any from Hiroshima – so probably wouldn’t know the difference! Banh Xeo is a proper crepe, with a filling, whereas I am aware that okonomiyaki is more of a pancake and requires toppings not fillings.

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          1. Haha, fair enough. Yes, the Osaka style would be closer to a pancake. The Hiroshima version has a layer of thin noodles which become a bit crispy when grilled, as well as a thinner, more crepe-like layer of batter! Delicious 😀

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