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Bánh Xèo – Sizzling Vietnamese Crepes

Posted on: April 6, 2009

homemade banh xeo with garnishing

One of the nice things about being bi-ethnic is the exposure I’ve had to two unique cultures growing up. My dad’s side is Toisan (台山) Chinese, while my mom’s side is Vietnamese. But since almost everyone on my mom’s side of the family is still in Vietnam until this day, growing up in the Bay Area I have had more exposure to my Chinese roots rather than to my Vietnamese ones.

I didn’t really start learning more about Vietnamese culture until the second half of high school, and then my desire to learn more grew in college when I got involved with my school’s Vietnamese Student Association. I made Vietnamese friends, and through them I learned more about my culture and in the end, myself.

Village in Binh Dinh province, Vietnam

Then in January of last year, I went back to the Motherland; it was my first time in Vietnam. It was slightly disorienting, knowing that halfway around the world I have a hundred relatives who all know who I am, what I look like (their homes have albums with pictures of me at various ages that my mom sent), and what I am doing with my life. I couldn’t communicate with them, as I hadn’t learned any Vietnamese growing up, and I barely knew anything about my relatives there. They all felt like strangers to me, and I constantly questioned how much I really belonged there. Few things felt familiar to me.

You can feel like you belong in a place in different ways. You might physically blend in, or you could speak the native language of that particular country.

…Or you could just eat everything there and feel like gastronomically, your life is complete — which is sort of how I felt while I was in Vietnam.

One day, I was walking along a street in Quy Nhon, a coastal city in Binh Dinh province in Central Vietnam, and I came across this street vendor preparing something familiar to me:

home style banh xeo on the street in Quy Nhon, Vietnam

It was a type of home-style bánh xèo, a Vietnamese sizzling crepe.. Literally translated, bánh xèo means “sizzling crepe,” as “xèo” is like the “ssssee-oh!” sizzling sound heard when the crepe batter hits the hot frying pan. The crepe is typically made from a batter consisting of ground rice, mung beans, pork, and shrimp, and then filled with fresh mung bean sprouts to be served with fresh vegetables and herbs, rolled in bánh tráng (edible rice paper), and then dipped in nước mắm (Vietnamese fish sauce).

homestyle banh xeo in Quy Nhon, Vietnam

The picture above shows the home-style bánh xèo that the street vendor we befriended had made (which we happily bought and devoured). It reminded me of another type of bánh xèo that I have always loved, one that is most typically found in the southern region of Vietnam. They look like this:

Banh Xeo aka Saigon Crepes

Yellow from the turmeric and mung beans, fragrant from the shrimp, pork shoulder, and coconut milk, and stuffed with fresh mung bean sprouts, these sizzling babies are crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. Bánh xèo is considered one of Southern Vietnam’s most famous dishes, and as a result, if you see this on a menu at a Vietnamese restaurant in the U.S., it will typically be called “Saigon Pancake” or “Saigon Crepe.” At other places, I’ve seen it on the menu as a “Vietnamese moon pancake/crepe” due to the crepe being folded over and resembling a half moon.

Banh Xeo batter

The problem with most Vietnamese restaurants in the U.S. is that they usually use a pre-made mix for the batter, and because of this, the texture of the bánh xèo is always flagrantly off. It ends up being soft and soggy; no bánh xèo should ever be associated with either of those two adjectives. Not to mention that the crepe is usually served by itself without the traditional bánh tráng or at least with large lettuce leaves to wrap the crepes in.

Frying up a banh xeo

The only way to get around this was for me to make it myself. And luckily for me, I had done a lot of digging on Vietnamese cooking and came across Andrea Nguyen’s Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, which probably has some of the most authentic Vietnamese recipes I’ve seen in English. As an added bonus, her bánh xèo recipe was thoroughly researched during her trips to Vietnam, and she was able to replicate the crispy, chewy pancakes in her home kitchen after multiple trials, and then bestow it upon all of us in the States who love these crepes so much but are not literate in Vietnamese. I was in heaven.

Flipping the banh xeo over

You will look at the below recipe(s) and think that this will be a time-consuming endeavor. Well, I’m not going to lie to you: it’s going to take a lot of prep work and a lot of patience with the soaking and the cutting and the washing, but in the end, it will be worth it. Gather up eight or nine of your closest friends or family who you know will appreciate homemade Vietnamese food, and have them sit around the table to enjoy this meal with you. Better yet, get them all to pitch in and help cook the meal, as you will see below that there are quite a number of steps to the final product.

But once that sizzling sound is heard and the first few pieces of the crepes are torn off and eaten, they won’t regret helping out one bit. Bánh xèo doesn’t get any better than this.

Banh xeo wrapped with veggies and banh trang

Bánh Xèo (sizzling crepes)
Adapted from Andrea Nguyen’s Into the Vietnamese Kitchen
8-10 Servings

Nước Mắm – Vietnamese Fish Sauce (for dipping)

•    1/4 cup lime juice
•    2 tablespoons rice vinegar
•    2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
•    1 clove garlic, finely chopped and mashed
•    1 cup boiling water
•    5-8 tablespoons fish sauce
•    1 to 2 Thai bird, dragon or seeded Serrano chilies, thinly sliced

Place the lime juice, rice vinegar, sugar and garlic in a bowl; stir to combine. Add the fish sauce, starting with 5 tablespoons. Then add about 1 cup boiling water. Taste and adjust the flavors. Aim for a balance of tart, sweet and salty. The color of the liquid should be a deep amber.  Add chilies and allow sauce to cool. Serve the sauce chilled. Yields about 1 1/2 cups.

Batter
Yields 3 cups of batter (enough for about 8 crepes).

•    1 cup long-grain or jasmine rice
•    2 tablespoons cooked rice, firmly packed
•    1 tablespoon steamed, ground mung beans, firmly packed
•    1/2 teaspoon salt
•    1/2 teaspoon turmeric
•    1/4 cup coconut milk
•    1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons water
•    1 green onion, sliced into thin rings (1/4 cup)

Place the raw rice in a bowl and add enough water to cover by 1 inch. Let soak for 3 to 4 hours. Drain.

Place the soaked rice in a blender with the cooked rice, mung beans, salt, turmeric, coconut milk and water. Blend until very smooth and lemony yellow, about 3 minutes.

Pour the batter through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl and discard the solids. Stir in the green onion. Set aside. As the batter sits, it will thicken to a consistency like that of heavy cream. The batter can be made up to 4 hours before serving.

For assembly:

•    1/2 cup canola oil, divided
•    1 1/2 cups thinly sliced yellow onion
•    3/4 pound boneless pork butt, shoulder, or belly, thinly sliced
•    1 (15-ounce) can whole or broken straw mushrooms, drained, cut lengthwise if whole
•    1/2 pound medium (41 to 50 count) white shrimp, trimmed of legs and tails, de-veined
•    1 recipe batter
•    1 recipe steamed, ground mung beans
•    8 ounces bean sprouts (about 2 1/2 cups)

For garnish:

•    Leaves from 2 heads butter lettuce, red leaf lettuce, or romaine lettuce
•    1/2 small English cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded and thinly sliced (1 1/4 cups)
•    1/4 cup cilantro leaves
•    1/4 cup mint leaves
•    1/4 cup torn tía tô leaves (optional)
•    1 recipe dipping sauce
•    2-3 packages bánh tráng (Vietnamese rice paper; these usually have about 22-25 sheets per package)

For each crepe, heat 2 to 3 teaspoons oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot enough to gently sizzle a slice of onion on contact, add one-fourth cup onion, one-fourth cup pork, one-fourth cup straw mushrooms and 4 shrimp. Sauté quickly, breaking up the meat and letting the ingredients sear and aromatize, about 1 minute. Visualize a line down the skillet’s middle and roughly arrange the ingredients in the two halves. Anything arranged in the middle will make it hard to neatly fold the crepe.

Give the batter a good stir with the ladle. Pour about one-half cup batter into the skillet, swirling the skillet to cover the bottom. The batter should dramatically sizzle (making that “xèo” noise!) and bubble. When it settles down, scatter 2 tablespoons mung beans over the crepe surface and place a one-third cup bean sprouts on one side. Turn the heat down to medium-low, cover and cook until the bean sprouts have slightly wilted, about 3 minutes.

Remove the lid and drizzle about 1 teaspoon oil around the edge of the crepe. Continue cooking, uncovered, to crisp the pancake. After about 3 to 4 minutes, the edges should have pulled away from the skillet and turned golden brown. At this point, use a spatula to check underneath. From the center to the edge, the crepe should gradually go from being soft to crispy. Lower the heat if you need to cook further. When you are satisfied, use a spatula to fold one half over the other. Either lift the crepe with a spatula or slide it onto a serving dish. Repeat the cooking process. If there’s leftover batter, make the poor man’s crepe without the goodies.

To eat, tear a piece of lettuce roughly the size of your palm and place a piece of the crepe inside (use kitchen scissors or chopsticks to cut the crepe). Add cucumber slices and a few herb leaves. Use your fingers to bundle it up, then dunk it into the dipping sauce.

For a more traditional way of eating the crepes, use the bánh tráng. Prepare a large bowl of warm water and place at the table. With each sheet of bánh tráng, place it into the water, making sure the top and bottom of the sheet comes into contact with the water. Place on a flat plate and allow the rice paper to soften. Once softened, fill with a piece of the crepe, cucumber slices, lettuce, and herb leaves. Then roll it like a thin burrito. Dip into nước mắm and enjoy.

Steamed, ground mung beans
Yields 1 1/4 cups, enough for 8 (10-inch) crepes

•    1/2 cup dried yellow mung beans

Place the mung beans in a bowl and add enough water to cover by 2 inches. Let soak 2 hours.

Drain the beans and place in the steamer basket, spreading them out to an even layer. Fill the steamer bottom halfway with water and bring it to a rolling boil over high heat. Steam the mung beans until tender, about 8 minutes. Remove the basket from the steamer bottom and set aside to cool.

Grind the cooled beans in a food processor to a fluffy consistency. The texture should resemble fine cornmeal, but you’ll be able to pinch together a bit between your fingers. Steamed, ground mung beans may be frozen and defrosted when needed.

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1 Response to "Bánh Xèo – Sizzling Vietnamese Crepes"

[…] neighborhood pho place for now. a successfully cooked crepe, and tips for its creation, is pictured here. my #2son was very wary,suspicious, scared?!– the next day when he saw me opening up the […]

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  • itsgrant: I want to goooo! Me next vacation, hopefully
  • Jesslyn: Thank you so much for posting this! My husband (who spent several years in Korea) and I have been searching for a good recipe that will produce Ho Duc
  • Didi: I have been searching everywhere for a recipe for this dish and this was spot on!! Thanks for making me and my boyfriend VERY happy :)

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