Never Say No To Banh Xeo

Captivated from the moment my plate hit the table, practically radiating with aromatic herbs and the subtle, sweet scent of coconut, I was instantly hooked on banh xeo. Magical, almost mythical, it was unlike any dish I had enjoyed before, and for many years, considered it out of reach as a DIY project at home. Little did I know, anyone can make their own banh xeo with a little practice, patience, and determination.

What Is Banh Xeo and Banh Xeo Chay?

Translated as “sizzling cake”, banh xeo is a Vietnamese delicacy that’s been prized by the upper classes for centuries. Legend has it that it originated in the imperial city of Hue, where it was served to the royal court. Over time, the dish spread throughout Vietnam and became a beloved street food, becoming more accessible to people from all walks of life.

For omnivores, the filling often includes seafood like shrimp or prawns and pork of some sort. Vegetarian (chay) versions are just as popular, however, swapping meat for mushrooms and tofu. Both versions include generous amounts of bean sprouts and onions.

Tips For Success

Making banh xeo is a labor of love. The batter is made from rice flour, cornstarch, turmeric, and coconut milk, giving it a bright yellow hue and a slightly sweet flavor. It’s then mixed with beer, which adds a lightness and crispiness to the crepe.

Granted, calling it a “crepe” doesn’t quite ring true. While it may share visual similarities, it’s an entirely different textural experience. French crepes, thin pancakes that can be either sweet or savory, are soft all the way through, tender enough to forgo a knife entirely. Banh xeo, on the other hand, have a resounding crispy finish that rivals that of a lacey florentine cookie. Liberal use of oil and a gossamer thin layer of batter are the culprits, creating a perfect bite that’s both rich and light all at once.

Don’t forget to let your batter rest. While you can certainly give it a go right after whisking everything together, you’ll get much better results that are less likely to tear if you can wait.

Serving Suggestions

Once stuffed and served, banh xeo is best enjoyed as finger food. Tear the filled crepe into smaller pieces and wrap them in crisp lettuce leaves for a cool, refreshing wrapper. Add fresh herbs on top and give it a quick dip in salty, sweet, sour vegan nước chấm (dipping sauce) before taking a bite. The combination of the crispy pancake, fresh lettuce, and fragrant herbs creates an ideal flavor and textural contrast.

Of course, you can also enjoy banh xeo on its own, or with rice noodles and additional vegetables. Don’t let me tell you what to do her! It’s a versatile and delicious dish that can be customized to your tastes.

Whether or not they’re the perfect texture, I promise you’ll have a delicious meal on your hands. Most importantly, don’t be intimidated like I was, depriving yourself of such a wonderful homemade meal for so long. Making banh xeo at home is a wonderful way to experience Vietnamese cuisine and connect with its rich cultural history. As long as you’re willing to try, there are no wrong answers.

Continue reading “Never Say No To Banh Xeo”

Noodles You Should Know: Áp Chảo Chay

No matter how many noodles you know and love, there’s always more to discover. It’s a distinct joy and benefit to eating out; exploring global flavors without hopping on a plane, using your vacation days, or even coordinating a babysitter to watch the kids. Ordinary days are transformed into unforgettable ones with a single bite. That’s the story of how I first found out about Áp Chảo Chay.

What Is Áp Chảo Chay?

Áp Chảo means both pan-fried and sauteed, so what you get are sheets of fused noodles that are chewy on the inside and crispy on the outside. It’s a multidimensional textural experience, and every bite is a bit different. Some pieces have a resounding crunch like a deep-fried wonton, while others have more of an al dente give. It’s unlike any other straight-forward stir fry and something everyone should have in their lives.

, of course, simply means vegetarian, so you get an assortment of tender-crisp fresh veggies and tofu, rounding out the meal.

Where Can You Find Áp Chảo Chay?

This Vietnamese specialty is surprisingly hard to come by in the states, which is why it took me so long to get my first, completely revolutionary taste. It’s not something you can simply order if it’s not on the menu, given the difficulty and time involved, but it’s worth asking around if restaurant owners know another place that could accommodate.

Many versions on the concept exist, of course, the most popular of which being Áp Chảo Bo, with beef. If you happen to find this, you can easily request it without meat; the rest of the dish is usually “accidentally” vegan without eggs or dairy, but you will want to specify in case fish sauce or oyster sauce come into play.

The specific noodles can vary as well. Some use wide, flat rice noodles (as seen here) while others use thinner pho noodles or even vermicelli.

How To Make Áp Chảo Chay

Though simple in concept, success rests solely on technique for this dish. To be honest, I haven’t been able to get it right yet, but there are plenty of people much more experienced in the art that can help guide you.

  • Wandering Chopsticks is truly the online authority on Vietnamese cooking, so I’d trust this version of Pho Ap Chao Bo implicitly. To veganize, replace the fish sauce with soy sauce, and use your favorite plant-based protein instead of beef.
  • Cooking Off The Cuff takes a more soupy approach, filling a bowl for this Phở Áp Chảo with hot broth to finish. Same notes for veganizing, though you could use vegetarian oyster sauce here if you can find it.

Not everything needs to be spicy, but if you’re a heat-seeker, stock up on hot chili oil to lavish on top. That bright finishing touch makes an already excellent dish utterly unassailable.

Try a new noodle tonight. There’s still so many more out there, waiting to be savored.

Meant To Be Broken

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. If it already is broken, it might not need fixing in the first place.

Broken rice (Cơm Tấm) is intentionally fractured, not defective. Once upon a time, in the earliest days of milling and manufacturing, it did begin life as the cheaper alternative to pristine long rice, though that’s no longer the case. In fact, it can command a premium price, especially overseas where it’s harder to find. Stumbling upon it randomly while perusing the endless aisles at MT Supermarket, I knew I hit the jackpot.

Contrary to the negative implications that might be associated with a “broken” item, it’s just as nutritious as any other whole grain. In fact, it has the added benefit of cooking more quickly due to the shorter, fragmented pieces.

If you think regular white rice is a brilliant blank canvas for soaking in flavorful sauces, just wait until you break this party up; impossibly porous, this segmented cereal drinks in every last drop like an edible sponge. Soft, sticky, tender yet toothsome, you get the best of all textures in every bite.

You could enjoy it in any other short grain rice recipe for a change of pace, though it’s most popular in Vietnam as street food. Flanked by pork chops, fried egg, meatloaf, pork skin, and sweet fish sauce, you would be hard pressed to find a dish any less vegan.

Rather than attempting to twist this dish into something utterly unrecognizable to accommodate my demands, I was inspired to break up with tradition and try a fresh approach.

Fragrant, subtly sweet, delicate and supple, this exquisite cracked cereal shines with a gentle approach to seasoning. Slightly nutty, warm and toasted, yet also bright and floral with hints of citrus, it’s already quite a prize cooked only in plain water. It would be a grave disservice to the grain if such a wealth of flavor was obscured. Thus, I merely accentuated the natural complexities locked within, adding a touch of sugar, salt, and a few drops of lemongrass oil. Butterfly pea tea (“blue matcha”) provides a bold blue hue, but the rich palate of flavors outshines even that vibrant veneer.

Serve with ripe mango, papaya, peaches, coconut, or any fresh fruit, really. Feel free to experiment! You can’t mess this one up; it’s already broken.

Continue reading “Meant To Be Broken”


Robust, deeply savory broth spiked with equally bold and nuanced spices are the defining characteristics of any successful bowl of pho. Rice noodles are an essential component, soaking in those carefully honed, painstakingly crafted layers of flavor, but never the stars of the show. It all comes down to the soup itself, sometimes simmered for hours, if not days, built upon generations of family secrets.

Celebrated across Vietnam and now the world at large, that same passion for the process sometimes gets lost in translation, especially when searching for a vegan option. Pho Chay, born of Buddhist traditions that take all forms of meat off the dinner table, is all too often a sad, watered-down tease. Plain vegetable broth is not an adequate substitution for this edible art, but if you don’t know any better, how can one possibly get the delicate seasoning right?

With as many recipes as there are cooks that make it, happily, there are no hard and fast rules for building a better broth. That’s why even a blatantly “inauthentic” rendition can still soothe those soulful soup cravings.

Inspired by the uniquely aromatic blend of cinnamon, clove, ginger and cardamom found in Stash Chai Spice Black Tea, Pho Chai is both a crafty play on words and a delicious departure from the norm. The blend of strong Assam, muscatel Darjeeling, and well-balanced Nilgiri found in every sachet add surprising umami flavor along with unexpected sweet Indian spices. Energetic notes of cardamom and ginger brighten this bowl, harmonizing beautifully with the fresh spray of herbs piled on top. Perhaps the concept is dubious on paper, but unquestionably compelling on the tongue.

You’ll want to stock up on this warm, spicy tea for more than just soup. Head over to and use the promo code BITTERSWEET-SC to get discount off your purchase, and don’t forget to follow them on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for both sweet and savory tea inspiration.

Continue reading “Pho-Nomenal”