One of the Vietnamese foods we most enjoyed on our trip was bánh xèo, the wonderful savoury pancake rolled up super-tasty finger food, which we learned to make while we were there. Like so many Vietnamese foods, it is a sophisticated combination of cooked and fresh, hot and cold.
Usually this dish starts with a couple shrimps and thin slices of pork placed in a bit of hot oil in a small pan – although we had no problem getting them with just shrimp for Tuffy P. You use a thinnish rice batter with a bit of turmeric, which gives it a yellowish colour. The batter is poured into the hot oil on top of the pork and shrimps. It sizzles. Bánh xèo is literally “sizzling cake”, the xèo imitating the sound of the sizzle. Cook it until it gets good and crispy, then fold it in half. It can be served like this with herbs on top but we learned to make it as a rolled up finger food. That may be a Central Vietnamese deal, I’m not sure.
The folded pancake is placed on a piece of thin rice paper. There seems to be some variety in what goes on them at this point – often a thin slice of green banana and a thin slice of starfruit or perhaps a slice of cucumber. Add some bean sprouts and some herbs. Then roll up the whole deal tightly. Some people do this by beginning the roll around a chopstick, then adding a second chopstick and using the sticks to help you get a nice tight roll, before sliding them out.
Now there is one additional element and that is a dipping sauce, usually a mixture of Vietnamese fish sauce, sugar, lemon or rice vinegar, garlic and chilies. This sauce seems to vary in spiciness depending on where you are.
There is a lot going on in one of these rolls. The combination of flavours and textures is outstanding. You’ve got the crispy crepe, the fresh herbs bursting with flavour, the shrimp and pork adding a hit of protein, the whole business jump-started by the dip. Once I get over this cold, I’ve got to try making these things at home.