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One of my favourite things to eat during my time in Vietnam was Banh Xeo – crispy savoury pancakes coloured yellow with turmeric powder and traditionally filled with pork and prawns, vegetables and bean sprouts. The name translates as ‘sizzling cake’ to represent the loud sizzling sound made as the batter is poured into a hot skillet, but they’re also affectionately referred to as “happy pancakes” – particularly in the US.
Banh Xeo are typically served with a refreshing green herby salad and a punchy Nuoc Cham dipping sauce, and the traditional way to eat them is to break the pancake into pieces with your fingers, wrap it up in the leaves and herbs like a spring roll and dip it into the sauce – delicious!
Having devoured various takes on delicious Banh Xeo all around Vietnam, I was finally shown how to make it for myself on a cookery course during an extended stay in Hoi An. This recipe is the version representative of the Southern region of Vietnam.
Here’s how to make your very own Vietnamese finger food!
- 200g rice flour
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 300ml coconut milk
- 100ml water
- 1 tsp black pepper
- ½ tsp salt
- ¾ tsp soybean oil
- Chopped spring onion
Top tips for making Banh Xeo!
- The key to good Banh Xeo is to get the batter particularly thin and crispy. Cook the beansprouts ahead of time so they don’t make the pancake too soggy, or add a pinch of cornflour to the batter.
- Banh Xeo are normally made with rice flour, which can be a bit hard to come by in the UK. It is usually possible to purchase this from Asian supermarkets or wholefood stores. Alternatively, if you’re feeling particularly determined, you can soak rice overnight and grind in a blender to make your own flour.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together rice flour, turmeric powder, salt and pepper. Add water until you reach the consistency of a batter for crepes (slightly thicker than milk). Add a large ladle of coconut milk (optional). Set batter to rest 15 minutes.
- Heat a non-stick pan over a high heat. Add soybean oil. Add sliced pork and several prawns. Wait until the oil smokes. Pour a ladle of batter (you should hear the characteristic sizzling, otherwise your heat is too low) and swirl pan to coat the middle of the pan evenly. The crepe should be thin and of even thickness.
- Reduce heat after 1 minute and cook to crisp for 1-2 more minutes, drizzling a few drops of oil with a spoon on the outer edge of the crepe if necessary. The delicate flavour of the dish comes from the rice and turmeric batter being fried to a nice brown colour. Adding a few drops of oil will prevent the crepe from turning black.
- Flip the crepe and crisp the other side for 1 minute. To flip, tilt the pan at a 45 degree angle from your wrist and forearm. Slide the crepe towards the outer edge of the pan and flip straight up mostly with wrist.
- Flip the crepe again and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon chopped spring onion and beansprouts. Fold the crepe in two like a taco to steam bean sprouts inside and transfer to a serving dish with lettuce, mint and coriander. Serve with Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce.
Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce
- 2 cloves garlic
- Red chilli
- 1 tsp sugar
- Juice of 1 lime
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 4 tbsp lukewarm water
- Grind garlic and thinly sliced red chilli in a mortar (or chop finely if no mortar) and transfer to a small sauce dish. Add sugar, squeezed lime juice, fish sauce and water.
- Taste and adjust with sugar, water or fish sauce to suit your taste.
Vegetarian readers will be delighted to know that Ottolenghi has come up with a delicious veggie alternative to the traditional Banh Xeo recipe here.
If this has whetted your appetite for Vietnamese cuisine, you may be interested in taking part in a cookery course yourself. We offer a range of foodie experiences that can be incorporated into any tailored itinerary. Alternatively, feast your way through Vietnam with our Culinary Vietnam itinerary. Get in touch with our consultants at: [email protected] or call: 0117 370 9758.