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.
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.