A long time ago, in a far away place (Vancouver), I once ordered a banh xeo off the menu at a Vietnamese restaurant, hoping to try one of Vietnam’s other specialities. I was already very familiar with pho, the savoury beef noodle soup, and bun cha gio, the cold vermicelli topped with fried rolls, but these were what I always ordered and I wanted to try something new. What arrived was a huge yellow crepe (though yellow, there was no egg) stuffed with lots of beansprouts, pieces of pork and large prawns. While the first few mouthfuls were tasty enough, it soon became terribly monotonous and a bit greasy and quite soggy. Very dull altogether.

But for some reason a few weeks ago, I felt like I should give this dish a chance again. From Wikipedia, I realise where the restaurant version went wrong – they hadn’t served it with any of the lettuce or mustard greens and herbs. These made a huge difference in the dish: crispy pancake (something I found lacking in the restaurant example I tried) and coconut flavour and fresh herbs – delicious! And the crepe doesn’t need that much filling – it even becomes more economical with just a bit of pork and shrimp. I guess making a large crepe chock full of ingredients (which in turn possibly make the crepe soggier faster) is a restaurant’s way of justifying the price of the dish! I’m converted to the charms of the banh xeo and would recommend that everyone just make it at home!

Banh Xeo

The name banh xeo means sizzling crepe, the xeo being an onomatopoeic word for the sound of the cooking process. Anyway, enough of my rambling; here’s the recipe I put together with based on the ingredients I had and adapted from various recipes around the web. To eat the banh xeo, cut off a piece of the crepe and wrap it, along with some herbs, in a lettuce leaf. Dip the wrap into some nuoc cham and eat!

Banh Xeo Meal

Banh Xeo
serves 2 for a meal or 4-6 as one dish among many

For the batter
1 cup rice flour (not glutinous rice flour)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 small tin coconut milk (165 ml)
about 1.5 cups water
2 spring onions, thinly sliced (both white and green parts)

100g pork belly (no skin), sliced into small thin pieces
100g small shrimps (I used cooked ones)
1 small onion, cut in half and sliced thinly
sunflower oil

For serving
fresh mint
Thai basil (optional – I didn’t have any)
nuoc cham (recipe below)

Make the batter for the crepes first – mix together the rice flour, salt, sugar and turmeric in a bowl. Add the coconut milk and start stirring. Stir in the water slowly, you may not need it all and you may need more. You want the consistency of crepe batter. Finally, stir through the sliced spring onions. Let the batter rest as you prepare the rest of your ingredients.

Make your salad plate. Wash the lettuce and herbs first. Separate the lettuce into its leaves (dry if needed) and arrange on a plate. Arrange the herbs alongside (people can pick off the leaves at the table). Prepare the nuoc cham (recipe below) and serve in small bowls for individual dipping (read: allows for double dipping!).

Now to cook the crepes! Heat a nonstick pan over medium-high heat. I have a 10 inch pan and the recipe reflects this size – adjust accordingly for your own pan. For each crepe, heat about 1 tsp of oil in the pan and throw in a few slices of onion and a few slices of pork belly. Fry until cooked and then toss in a teaspoonful of shrimps. Stir around for a few seconds and then arrange the ingredients around on the pan. Stir the crepe batter with a ladle and then add a ladelful evenly to the pan, turning the pan to coat it evenly. You should hear a good sizzle when adding the batter, hence the name of the dish! I found that if you let the batter go up along the sides of the frying pan, these edges become wonderfully crispy. Add a small handful of beansprouts onto one half of the crepe and then leave the crepe to cook for 4-5 minutes. When the crepe is ready, the edges will have pulled away from the sides of the pan. Fold the crepe in half and plate it. Continue this process with the rest of the ingredients and batter, making sure to stir the batter before using it as the rice flour tends to sink to the bottom. You could put the crepes in a warm oven to keep warm as you continue cooking or just serve as they come out of the pan.

Serve immediately with the nuoc cham and the salad plate.

Salad Plate

Nuoc Cham

Nuoc Cham
adapted from Viet World Kitchen.
enough for 2.

3 tbsps lime juice
2 tbsps sugar
1/2 cup water (125 ml)
2.5 tbsps fish sauce
1 clove garlic, crushed or minced finely and smashed
1 tsp chili paste (optional)

Mix the lime juice, sugar and water together until the sugar has dissolved. Add the fish sauce and adjust for lime juice, sugar and fish sauce to taste. Add the garlic and chili paste and stir through.