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Sunday, August 28, 2005

IMBB #18: Vietnamese banh xeo crispy pancakes

This month's IMBB theme is fried. Ahhh fried. How many crunchy promises lie in that introductory hiss and sizzle?

Unfortunately Murphy's Law dictates that the tastier each mouthful is, the more likely it will be carcinogenic, cholesterol-clogging or a diabetic's nightmare.

Banh xeo, however, is the perfect compromise for the fried food fanatic on a health kick. Crunchy crisp crepe, embedded with pork, prawns and sprouts, covered in a mountain of zingy greens, and doused in sweet vinegary chilli nuoc cham. It's fried, but there are vegetables. And raw ones at that!

We've made banh xeo a couple of times, but these efforts could never eclipse those of a dear friend's Mum--whose pancake is unfailingly crisp and of the perfect density. In fact her banh xeo is so good that the photos below are her creations (yeah, I've chickened out of showing my dodgy efforts!). But how could I, where her pancakes are lacey, golden-brown and oh-so-goooooood.

Banh xeo
1 - 1 1/2 cups Thai rice flour
2 cups water
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/3 cup thinly sliced scallion / shallots

Combine above ingredients and mix until smooth. Allow batter to rest for at least 30 minutes. (Note: You can often find packages of banh xeo flour mix at Asian groceries. Simply follow the directions on the back of the packet)

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a hot frypan, wok or skillet. Pour in a 1/4 cup of batter (or a large ladle's worth) and swirl pan to spread batter evenly.

Then scatter thin slices of boiled pork belly and peeled prawns (my friend's mum used deepfried prawns still in their shell for extra crunch) over the batter. When the pancake starts bubbling and appears almost cooked (this will only take a few minutes) add a handful of raw bean sprouts on top.

Now this is the tricky bit and the part which always gets me unstuck. Using great care and spatula dexterity, fold the pancake in half on itself so you get a semi-circle shape (without the pancake cracking or tearing and the ensuing hissy fit which follows). Allow to cook for another 30 seconds before sliding onto a plate.

Banh xeo are best eaten asap whilst they are still crispy and fresh. We usually eat these covered in a mountain of various greens which we tear roughly into large shreds. These can include young mustard greens, Vietnamese cos-style lettuce, Vietnamese mint, Vietnamese basil, coriander (cilantro), shiso leaves and anything green, hot or peppery.

Drench your towering mountain with lashings of nuoc cham (recipe below) and extra slices of chilli if desired (yes please!). Grab your fork and try to hold back the sighs as you devour every mouthful.

NB. Some people serve this pancake cut into squares and wrapped in banh trang rice paper rounds (the ones you use for goi cuon) with lettuce and herbs. A little too much effort for those of us who are fans of Simpsons-style food shovelling!

You can also add spoonfuls of cooked split yellow lentils with your pork and prawns. I've tried it with and without, and prefer without but those who are into their lentils (or vegetarian) may enjoy this addition.

Nuoc cham
I think every Vietnamese mother has a different recipe. Like most Asian cooking, anything goes and quantities are always adjusted according to numerous taste tests.

2 red chillies finely sliced
1 clove garlic pounded in a mortar and pestle
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon lime juice
4 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 tablespoons water
1/2 cup shredded carrots

Combine ingredients and heat slowly in a saucepan until the sugar is dissolved. Cool and store in a sterilised jar in the fridge for up to three weeks.

Check out the full roundup of IMBB entries for Summer's Flying, Let's Get Frying, coming soon to At Our Table.
21 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (AugustusGloop) on 8/28/2005 09:15:00 pm


  • At 8/28/2005 9:41 pm, Blogger FooDcrazEE said…

    Yummy. Still remember my first Banh Xeo in HCMC, just like ya, tried cooking them and I flop. cant get the density, texture, etc. Worse is , cant really find the right ingredient in Malaysia. Lazy is another excuse. Great blog! can i linked ya ?

  • At 8/28/2005 10:30 pm, Blogger Helen (AugustusGloop) said…

    Hi foodcrazee - Yep flipping them looks so easy in the hands of experts *sigh*

    Glad you are enjoying the site and sure you can link me! The more the merrier! =)

  • At 8/29/2005 12:01 am, Blogger Joycelyn said…

    hi ag, i love banh xeo...your pictures truly do justice your friend's mum's masterpiece...gorgeous, just gorgeous...

  • At 8/29/2005 2:48 am, Blogger Nic said…

    Gorgeous! Sometimes you just can't compete with Mom's cooking.

  • At 8/29/2005 2:57 am, Blogger boo_licious said…

    Yippee, you made it. It looks really good, I can imagine how crispy it is.

  • At 8/29/2005 9:47 pm, Blogger Helen (AugustusGloop) said…

    Hi J - Yes banh xeo is delicious, but it's like pancakes... best enjoyed when someone else makes them! =) Yes, her Mum is great. She is indeed the banh xeo extraordinaire!

    Hi Nic - Absolutely. Of course there are Dads out there who cook too. Not enough though! lol

    Hi boo licious - Yeah, I cheated a little though by using an old photo! =) I figured this would be a dish that may not be featured. I love the variety of posts that eventuate in the round-up!

  • At 8/30/2005 2:29 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hi AG,
    I'm sure that with practice, you'll be able to flip these crepes as dextrously as your friend's mom. They look delicious!

  • At 8/30/2005 1:44 pm, Blogger Babe_KL said…

    absolutely delicious but kinda hard to find the longish sprout here in KL

  • At 8/30/2005 6:27 pm, Blogger Reid said…

    Hi AG,

    These look delicious. I've never thought to make these at home and you make it seem so easy.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • At 8/30/2005 10:02 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    These look delicious and that sauce sounds fantastic! Yummy! Extra chili for me too :-)

  • At 8/30/2005 10:35 pm, Blogger Cat said…

    oh how i LOVE Vietnamese food, that looks absolutely delicious

  • At 8/30/2005 10:55 pm, Blogger santos. said…

    hi gloop! is that regular rice flour or glutinous rice flour? i am so ready to try this!

  • At 8/31/2005 12:22 am, Blogger Helen (AugustusGloop) said…

    Hi Julia - Probably, but it's much more fun eating these when someone else has cooked them! =) Very naughty but too tempting!

    Hi babe kl - You could easily substitute with lettuce. Asian food is always flexible. Just go with whatever you can find!

    Hi Reid - Ahhh it's always easy when someone else cooks them! Would love you see your efforts. I'm sure you could even incorporate Spam into them! lol

    Hi Joey - Thanks. I love nuoc cham. It's sooo tasty and refreshing. Great in summer over cold noodles with caramelised pork (bun thit nem nuong) or spring rolls (cha giao)and plenty of lettuce and pickled carrots. Mmm...

    Hi Catesa - I love Vietnamese food too. It's so fresh and zingy. I love the flavours.

    Hi Santos - Regular rice flour. I have to confess, we usually use the pre-mixed banh xeo packages which you may be able to find at your local Asian grocery. Apparently the secret lies in sourcing a good rice flour... one which is fairly strong for extra crispiness.

  • At 8/31/2005 2:25 pm, Blogger santos. said…

    hi g--i tried regular rice flour (albeit a non-asian brand), with no success. the flour refused to absorb the liquid and wouldn't form a proper batter. *sigh*. must look for different rice flour....

  • At 8/31/2005 5:17 pm, Blogger pinkcocoa said…

    oh yum, i love this!!! gotta try it out one day :)

  • At 8/31/2005 9:03 pm, Blogger Helen (AugustusGloop) said…

    Hi Santos - Oh no! Disaster! The Thai rice flour must have a different consistency to Western rice flour. Not sure why. I hope it works next time.

    Hi Pinkcocoa - Can't wait to see your efforts! It's very tasty!

  • At 8/31/2005 11:54 pm, Blogger soycap said…

    That looks delicious! I've had something simlar once at a Vietnamese restaurant and wondered what was in the batter...now I can give this a try with your help! Awesome :)

  • At 9/01/2005 3:06 pm, Blogger deborah said…

    Mmmm looks and sounds delish!

  • At 9/02/2005 9:35 am, Blogger Ben said…

    Looks great.

  • At 9/03/2005 7:55 pm, Blogger Helen (AugustusGloop) said…

    Hi soycap - I remember I was surprised to find out it had no egg! I always thought it was giant omelette.

    Hope you batter turns out well. As Santos seems to have discovered, you need Thai rice flour, not the ordinary Western kind.

    Hi Saffron - It is! It is often available at Vietnamese restaurants but only on weekends.

    Hi Ben - Thanks. Tastes yum too!

  • At 8/22/2012 8:06 pm, Anonymous Vietnam Travel Guy said…

    Thanks for the great post!
    I am a Banh Xeo fanatic and have been fortunate enough to experience Banh Xeo in VIetnam (where I live for part of the year) and in Australia thanks to my wife's great Vietnamese cooking.

    If you want to know a bit more about Banh Xeo in Vietnam I have written the following with a recomended restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam



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