Dec 12 2011
I recently took a trip up to northern Vietnam to see Hanoi, and to meet my fellow Hanoi Travelfish.org blogger who writes here. Being a street food junkie I cruised the streets and found several of my Saigon staples, like bun bo hue and hot vit lon, readily available. It made me realise how many of the things I eat daily have their origins in the north or central regions of the country. So today I thought I’d share a dish that you won’t find many places outside of Saigon, the southern specialty known as banh khot.
Banh khot is a very unique dish. Basically, it is a small hearty pancake that originated in the nearby beach town of Vung Tau but is now a special part of Saigonese cuisine. If it is made correctly, it will be golden-brown and crispy on the outside but soft in the middle. Banh khot usually comes in two varieties, pork and shrimp, but some restaurants make specialty versions, like oyster and fish. It is served with a plate of leaves, mustard or lettuce, which you wrap around the banh khot. They are snack size but a little too big to be taken in one bite — if you try the people watching you eat might think it’s the most hilarious thing they’ve ever seen.
Banh khot carts are easy to spot because they sport a unique cooking apparatus, consisting of what looks like a thick cupcake pan. The pan holds the banh khot as they fry in oil. This is a faster street food — generally the cook pumps them out pan-by-pan and you buy from the lot sitting on display.
It takes more gear to cook banh khot than your average street food, like banh mi for example, so more often than not these street vendors are in more permanent spots. My favourite vendor has been in her District 5 spot for more than five years. Since the banh khot pan is always going the carts are usually out on the street to keep the chef cool so, if you happen to be walking by, they will catch your eye.
Banh khot is a great street treat because it works as a snack or a meal. If you’re hungry, order a plate of 8-12, or just grab two or three if you want a quick bite. One will usually only cost 5,000 VND on the street, but if you’re in a restaurant expect to pay upwards of 15,000 for one. Either way, they’re worth the price; be careful though, they are deceptively filling. First you just try one, then you have two, next thing you know you’ve eaten a dozen and you have a stomach ache…
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