When it comes to Vietnamese food, the mention of pho (The Best Pho in Saigon) is a guarantee. However, the world of Vietnamese culinary delights offers so much more than the traditional delicacies, which are favored by the majority but not necessarily the end-all. Banh xeo (Vietnamese pancake) is one of those hidden gems. Although not as regularly eaten as pho this dish is absolutely delicious and quite popular in all of Vietnam, and this is your guide on where to find the best banh xeo in Saigon and of course, how to make it yourself!
What is Banh Xeo?
Banh xeo literally means “sizzling cake” in Vietnamese. “Banh” means cake and “xeo” is an onomatopoeic word alluding to the sizzling sound the batter makes when it hits a hot frying pan. You pronounce it like bun sey-oh. Banh xeo is a crispy crepe stuffed with shrimp, pork, and bean sprouts, and ultimately, garnished fresh herbs.
Due to the geographical differences in cooking styles and spices in Vietnam, banh xeo can have many different regional interpretations. Banh xeo is eaten all over Vietnam, but it is believed to have been a creation of the Central Vietnamese during the Tay Son era. It is said that the locals had grown so fond of crêpes that they would opt for banh xeo twice a month in lieu of their usual diet of rice. The inspiration for the recipe is largely attributed to the French, but some speculate that the recipe is a direct descendant of a crispy pancake in Hue called banh khoai, or that the dish evolved from the South Indian dish known as masala dosa, introduced by the Cham culture centuries ago.
Whatever the backstory behind these rice pancakes are, one thing is for sure: the recipe has countlessly been reinterpreted all across Vietnam to cater to the palates of each region. The central variation is much smaller than what you’ll find in Saigon, minus the coconut milk in the batter, and is approximately the size of a small saucer. Instead of mung beans, you’ll see local produce like fennel, green banana, and star fruit. Sometimes, the batter is spruced with chicken powder to make it extra delicious.
In the Binh Dinh and Quang Nam provinces of the central region, locals wrap their banh xeo in moistened rice paper while the south’s oversized banh xeos are encased in a stock of leafy greens. Closer to the coastline, you’ll see seafood instead of pork and deep in the heart of the Mekong, it is said that julienned palm fruit and shredded coconut are the vegetables of choice.
Due to the geographical differences in cooking styles and spices in Vietnam, banh xeo can have many different regional interpretations.
Traditionally, Vietnamese people usually gather to make banh xeo on weekends or during family gatherings. Adults prepare the batter while children help to wash the herbs and set the table. Banh xeo is designed to share with your loved ones over lots of laughter. And trust me: warm and hearty homemade version of this delicious Vietnamese pancake is the perfect cure for cold and chilly days.
How To Make Banh Xeo
The recipe of a meal for 3-4 people calls for:
- 200g rice flour
- 250ml water
- 50ml coconut milk
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, depending on color preference
- Onion powder
- Cooking oil
- 200g pork belly*
- 200g shrimps, peeled and deveined*
- 1 onion, medium size, thinly sliced
- 100g bean sprouts
- 1 small chopped ginger
- A bundle of green onions
- Optional: any type of fresh vegetable, chopped neatly
For a vegetarian version of Vietnamese pancake, you can just replace the meat with mushrooms and other veggies you like.
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1/2 tablespoons boiling water
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 chilis, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon garlic
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Step 1: Add 3 tablespoons fish sauce, 1/2 tablespoons boiling water, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1/2 finely chopped chilis, 1 teaspoon garlic and mix them well until the sugar has dissolved. Add lemon juice in increments to your liking.
Step 2: Mix the rice flour, salt, and turmeric powder in a large bowl. Slowly pour the water into the flour and then mix well. Add the coconut milk. Mix them all again until smooth and soft.
Step 3: Cut the green onions. Add them to the batter component, then add a little oil. Leave the batter to rest for about 30 minutes.
Step 4: Wash the bean sprouts and veggies. Lightly season shrimp with salt. Slice the pork thinly.
Step 5: Season the shrimp with ginger and onion powder. Season the pork belly with vegetable oil, garlic, ginger, and pepper. Set them aside.
Step 6: Warm up the pan with vegetable oil on medium-high heat. Add the onions and sprinkle some salt and pepper. Next, add the shrimps and pork.
Step 7: Pour some of the batters and quickly tilt the pan in a circular motion to spread the batter evenly. Cover the pan for 1 minute. Uncover and add some bean sprouts, cover again and cook for another minute.
Step 8: Fold the crepe in half. Fry until the outer crust becomes crisp and turns a beautiful golden brown on both sides then transfer the banh xeo to a plate.
Step 9: Let’s dig in. Now you wonder how to eat the Vietnamese pancake? Cut the banh xeo into bite-size portions. Roll it up in either lettuce leaves or moistened rice paper and dunk it in the salty and the pancake’s sweet dipping sauce you made earlier. The best time to eat banh xeo is it is piping hot, straight from the pan, while the savory crepe is still steaming.
Where to find the Best Banh Xeo
Ho Chi Minh City
For those who don’t feel like cooking, here are the five most famous addresses to stop by for a yummy plate of banh xeo:
Banh Xeo Muoi Xiem
Address 1: 204 Nguyen Trai S.t, District 1, HCMC
Address 2: 213 Bis Nam Ky Khoi Nghia S.t, District 1, HCMC
When it comes to banh xeo, the first brand that immediately pops up in everyone’s mind is Muoi Xiem. Banh Xeo Muoi Xiem has achieved many major awards while attending food festivals all over Vietnam and other countries in the region. The best thing about this place is that apart from the traditional banh xeo with shrimp and pork, the restaurant also creates unique types of this Vietnamese pancake with mushroom filling (needle mushroom, abalone mushroom, lingzhi mushroom, etc…). This is highly recommended for vegans!
An La Ghien
Address 1: 74 Suong Nguyet Anh S.t, District 1, HCMC
Address 2: 100 Cao Thang S.t, District 3, HCMC
Banh xeo An La Ghien is actually a big chain specializing in banh xeo and is a location everyone hits when they have intense cravings. The restaurant is centered around a concept of Vietnamese/Western-style cuisine. It offers not only banh xeo with more than ten different types of fillings but also dozens of Vietnamese-Western rustic dishes at affordable prices. There are many vegetarian options with mushroom and all of them are really tasty and beneficial to your health.
Banh Xeo 46A
Address: 46A Dinh Cong Trang S.t, District 1, HCMC
Banh Xeo 46A has had one of the longest careers among the banh xeo restaurants in Saigon. It is Saigon’s best-known eatery for getting a banh xeo, especially among foreign visitors looking to enjoy the iconic Vietnamese street food. FYI: this banh xeo hotspot is always swarming with people so be patient because you may have to wait in an endless queue.
Banh Xeo Mien Tay
Address: 31/6 Hoang Hoa Tham S.t, Tan Binh District, HCMC
Of all the banh xeo restaurants that have emerged in the city, Banh Xeo Mien Tay should be your top priority as this place brings you the one-of-a-kind flavor found only in the westernmost region of Vietnam. There’s a saying that Vietnamese eat with all their senses and it is especially true when you sit down at a banh xeo street stall like Banh Xeo Mien Tay. The gorgeous yellow color of the crepe is a feast for the eyes; you can hear that angry hissing sound when the batter hits the pan, and you can smell the mouthwatering pork grilling in the hot oil.
Banh Xeo Ba Hai
Address: 64 Nguyen Trong Tuyen S.t, Phu Nhuan District, HCMC
One of the most noticeable things at Banh Xeo Ba Hai is that instead of the common vegetables such as lettuce, basil, and herbs, the banh xeo here is served with wild herbs collected from the forests. The crepes are also less greasy than other places. The crust is crispy and the stuffing is pretty generous. This place is also famous for serving up to 12 types of pancakes including a number of vegetarian options, which is a reason why its regular clientele is not only locals but also tourists.
Banh Xeo Ngoc Son
Address: 103 Ngo Quyen, District 5, HCMC
Located near Cho Lon, this is an ideal dining place for you after an exhausted shopping spree. Just look at the enormous amount of guests that have been flocking there for more than 20 years – you would know that the restaurant has been doing a really good job. This place is actually a huge three-story house and the working station where the owner makes the banh xeo is in the front. The sizzling sound and the irresistibly fragrant smell never fails to attract passerby. Famous for gorgeous lacy edges and a crunchy middle, these pancakes come with big and perfectly cooked prawns. There is not a single hint of overflying or greasiness so you know you’re definitely in good hands with the best banh xeo maker in town.
How to Eat Banh Xeo
While waiting for your banh xeo, squeeze some lime into the nuoc cham fish sauce. This will be your dipping sauce. After the banh xeo arrives on your table, take your chopsticks and quarter off sections of the banh xeo. It’s very soft so it should rip apart easily but the most efficient way to cut it is when one person holds the banh xeo down with a chopstick while the other scissors it with his or her set of chopsticks.
The most notable part of the meal is the basket of herbs. The herbs will be the wrapper of your banh xeo. Using the lettuce leaf as a base, add the mustard leaf next, then layer in on all the remaining herbs like Thai basil and perilla. There’s also Vietnamese fish mint in the batch, a herb that has a wonderfully bizarre fishy taste. After you have your makeshift veggie vessel, plop a piece of the banh xeo on top and roll it up like a mini spring roll. Dip the roll into the nuoc cham and enjoy! Repeat this method until your plate is empty.
Banh xeo is also meal meant to be shared. Do not try to tackle this beast all by yourself because everything from the slicing to the wrapping is more fun when in a group. So remember to take your friends when you’re looking to tackle this beast.
If you’re looking for a fun and fulfilling evening food tour that includes banh xeo and much much more, you can check out the one offered by Onetrip. You’ll even get to try your hand at making these pancakes yourself! Just click the picture below.