Crepe, pancake, burrito, omelette – mash them all together and you get a bánh xèo.
This is otherwise known as a Vietnamese style pancake (or “sizzling cake”). The pancake is made of rice flour and it is filled with bean sprouts, crunchy pork belly (the Asian version of bacon) and shrimp and came with a side of pickled carrots and daikun, herbs (which I omitted because they just weren’t my cup of tea) and fish sauce. Looking at it, I assumed that you would eat it like a regular pancake/omelette – break off a piece, chew and swallow. I was a little underwhelmed by the flavours when I first bit into the pancake, but then realized I might have been eating it wrong.
Since it was my first time trying a bánh xèo, I timidly asked the waiter how I was supposed to eat it. He happily told me to put some of the pancake onto the lettuce leaf, wrap it and then dip it into the fish sauce. Ok, so I did just that and it tasted a world of a difference!
Originally when I bit into the pancake alone, it just tasted like an overload of bean sprouts inside a crispy shell and I assumed all the greenery was meant to be put inside of the pancake. I thought I was going crazy because I tasted coconut and KD didn’t, but then I learned that some recipes actually use coconut milk (phew). With the lettuce leaf folded around the pancake and dipping the wrap into fish sauce, it was refreshing and simultaneously had a number of textures – crispy, crunchy, soft, moist and bouncy. To my shock, despite all of the wet ingredients inside of the pancake the shell maintained its crispness throughout the meal.
More than half way through, the waiter asked what I thought because he said bánh xèo is a really good dish and gave me a thumbs up for choosing it. It was interesting and I found it refreshing to eat. I asked him if I was doing it right because I felt like I was being messy and he suggested making the wraps smaller. I just assumed two big lettuce leaves meant two big wraps! Well, I’ll know that for next time…:D