Banh Xeo is a Vietnamese dish that is often described as halfway between a crêpe and an omelette.
It’s a pancake, whose batter is made from rice flour and coconut milk. The rice flour used is regular rice flour (e.g. ground from long grain rice, not from sticky rice.) In many parts of Vietnam, turmeric is added as well, given it to Western eyes the yellowy appearance of having eggs in it.
Alternatively, you can buy Banh Xeo mix for the pancakes which consists of rice flour, powdered coconut milk and turmeric, to which you just add water.
However you arrive at it, the batter should be the consistency of a batter for French crêpes.
The pancake has in it a filling which can include items such as bean sprouts, taro, carrots, cooked shrimp and thin slices of cooked pork. So, the pancake ends up being a combination of soft and crunchy textures.
Banh Xeo is cooked in frying pan with oil in it.
Any raw shrimp and raw pork pieces being used for the filling are cooked a bit first in the frying pan before the batter is added. If being used, you would put about three medium-sized raw shrimps and three small pieces of thinly sliced raw pork in the pan.
When they have cooked a bit, you pour the batter in right on top of them. The oil should be very hot before it goes in; the batter should sizzle right away when it hits the pan. You pour a small amount of batter in, and swirl it around in the pan to spread out to the edges as you would for a crêpe.
You let the batter cook a bit, until partially set, then put other filling ingredients (which didn’t need the extra cooking time, such as vegetables) on top of it, in the centre. You let it cook further until these additional ingredients have wilted. Some street vendors will put a cover over the Banh Xeo to help the filling ingredients cook faster.
When done, the pancake should crisp up around the edges and pull away from the edge of the pan. Using a flipper, right in the pan you then fold one half of the Banh Xeo over the other half, as you would for an omelette, then put it on a plate to serve.
It will be served with side salad leaves such as lettuce or mustard leaf, with herbs such as basil, coriander, mint or fish leaf. Using chop sticks, you break off a piece of Banh Xeo, and wrap the piece in a few salad leaves. The salad leaves add interest to the dish and cut through any greasiness of taste.
Banh Xeo is usually often served with a sauce as well.
The style of Banh Xeo made will vary somewhat throughout Vietnam.
Banh Xeo made in southern Vietnam tends to be the largest on offer in Vietnam, about the size of Western dinner plates, though the pancakes are also thinner than elsewhere in the country. The batter is made of rice flour, water, coconut milk and powdered turmeric, giving them their yellow colour. The filling will often have mung beans in it. The pancakes will be served with Nuoc Châm, a fish sauce mixed with lemon (or lime) and water.
In central Vietnam, the pancakes are smaller, and white, owing to there being no turmeric in the batter. The pancake may, though, be flavoured with cumin. They are served with “tuong” sauce, which is hoisin sauce with liver and garlic in it.
In the Hue area of Vietnam, Banh Xeo is called “banh khoai.” The pancakes are smaller than in the south. The filling is often fennel, star fruit, green banana, and soy sauce.
Banh Xeo made in northern Vietnam are similar to southern ones, though smaller. The filling may have other ingredients such as manioc in it.
Bánh xèo means “sizzling cake.” It is pronounced “bahn sow.”
A unique “banh xeo” in Vietnam. Wednesday, 24 December 2008. Vietnam Beauty: Vietnam Government. Retrived October 2009 from http://www.vietnam-beauty.com/food-a-drink/vietnamese-food/22-vietnamese-food/242-a-unique-banh-xeo-in-vietnam.html .
Hix, Mark. Vietnamese savoury crêpes (Banh xeo). London. The Independent. 6 February 2008.
Unidentified Author. Sizzling Rice Crêpes. Saveur Magazine. May 2009. Issue #120.