After a few weeks of travelling Vietname enjoying light and crispy Banh Xeo (Vietnamese Pancakes) stuffed with masses of herbs, salad leaves, sprouts, prawns, crisp dried onions, a dash of fish and hot chilli sauces, my meals at home don’t have quite the same appeal.
For those who love fragrant, textured and great flavoured dishes then Vietnamese food is sure to be for you and Banh Xeo is a fabulous way to start or end the day. These delicious wraps can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack in between.
Pancakes are of course universally popular but what sets these apart from others is their crispness (not so crisp that they can’t be folded), and a thin, light texture.
Mrs Mười Xiềm is one of the most famous Ban Xeo makers in Vietnam. From Cần Thơ, she has been making her pancakes for over 50 years and was skyrocketed to fame after being invited to cook at a festival in the USA. Since then tourists have flocked to her small humble cafe and the walls boast photos of both her and the celebrities that have eaten there. Subsequently, the Muroi Xiem name has grown into a Ban Xeo restaurant chain. There is some debate about whether Muoi Xiem herself is involved in the restaurant chain or whether she sold out her name. Thankfully we ate at the original, with her and her family, so know that what we ate is the recipe she approves of.
What you eat in your Banh Xeo depends on where in Vietnam you are, the time of year and also personal preference as sometimes you get to construct your own.
Skillfully wrapped and eaten by hand, sometimes the pancake comes with rice paper to wrap around the outside, some use large leaves and the rest of us do our best just to manage to wrap and eat without spilling. :)
Banh Xeo are simple to make at home. Some recipes found online will have the addition of an egg yet in my experimenting I think the best texture is achieved just from using rice flour, coconut milk, water and turmeric. The egg makes a spongier pancake without the crispness that is so important.
In terms of filling, this, of course, is completely personal. I overload mine with herbs and leaves and just a scattering of prawns whereas the kids in our house prefer meat with chopped cucumber and a few herbs.
Banh Xeo – Serves 4-5
1 1/2 cups rice flour
2 tablespoons cornflour
400ml can coconut milk
1 1/2 cups chilled water
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and whisk until smooth.
Set aside to rest for at least 2 hours.
Heat a wok or large frying pan over a medium heat and drizzle with a little oil.
Pour in approximately 1/3 cup batter and very quickly swirl the pan to distribute the batter as thin as possible. Little holes in the batter are just fine.
Cook until crisp on one side and then turn and cook the other side.
Fill and fold or roll into parcels. Some pancakes will be too crisp to roll but should be able to be folded.
Chopped barbecued pork (I buy this from an Asian bbq shop)
and/or Cooked prawns
and/or Grilled chicken strips – not necessarily traditional but my kids like this.
basil leaves (preferably Thai basil but can use sweet basil)
sliced spring onion
sliced red onion
crisp fried onions
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon Vietnamese fish sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1 small red chilli, seeds removed and finely sliced