Feb 01 2012
I’m a foodie. I think that’s the main reason I like Saigon so much; there are so many dishes here that something new to me rolls around almost every day. Sometimes I get so caught up in the new dishes though that I forget to appreciate some of the more popular, and common, foods that you can find in the city. Banh xeo is one such popular dish. In restaurants it’s a common appetiser, but if you’re on the streets it makes for a great sit-down snack.
Banh xeo kind of looks like a big, thin, crispy skinned omelette. Instead of an egg, however, the body of the dish is made with a fried, rice flour crepe. The inside of the banh xeo is a savoury mixture of meat, usually pork and/or shrimp, and usually diced onion, mung beans and a healthy dose of bean sprouts. Nine times out of ten if you get shrimp in banh xeo it will still have its shell; I used to pick it out and de-shell it myself but as time has gone by I guess I kind of stopped caring. My point is, if you eat the shells you probably won’t die.
In Saigon, the banh xeo you’ll find is different in a few ways from what you’ll find in the north. They are bigger, usually a little thinner, and they are made with coconut milk.
Once your sizzling hot banh xeo is delivered to your lap it will be accompanied by a plate of lettuce, mustard leaves, cucumbers, and other various greens as well as a dish of fish sauce or nuoc mam. To eat the banh xeo use the provided utensil, usually a spoon, and cut off chunks that you will wrap in the lettuce. Stuff your wrap with your choice of the provided extras, then dip it in the fish sauce and enjoy! If you’re not into the wrapping bit, there’s nothing wrong with just eating it by itself. Either way it’s pretty delicious. And one last thing to remember, banh xeo seems to get cold and soggy really fast. The trick is to eat it fast, but not so fast you burn yourself — it might take a little practice.
Finding banh xeo is similar to finding banh khot in that the apparatus for cooking banh xeo usually stands out. Actually, most banh khot vendors are also banh xeo vendors. In the markets you’ll usually find the banh xeo lady in a cooler, shaded spot because the large pan that they are cooked on is constantly hot. Banh xeo is one of the cheaper street foods in Saigon; they can be found on the street for as little as 7,000 VND but they are usually in the 10-15,000 VND range.
If you’re looking for a step up from the street, the most popular spot in HCMC to get banh xeo is from the aptly named and famous Banh Xeo 46A in District 3, down an alley off Dinh Cong Trang. It’s a little pricey at 40,000 VND but a good place to try your first — tours also frequent it. If you’re a banh xeo aficionado it may not be the best you ever had.
Banh xeo is a really popular dish in Saigon and it’s easy to find on the menus of most Vietnamese restaurants here. If you order one it will probably be pretty good but it probably won’t be quite as good as what you’ll find on the street; so if you spot banh xeo while strolling the streets, give one a try!
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