As a crispy, savoury street side snack, banh xeo, or Vietnamese pancake, is another entry from Vietnam’s vast repertoire of culinary delights. Just like a cat says ‘meow’ (which, coincidentally, is the Vietnamese word for cat), ‘xeo xeo xeo’ is the hissing sound of rice batter as it hits the hot skillet. Thus, banh xeo literally translates to ‘sizzling cake’.
There are a several regional variations of banh xeo, most notably from central and southern Vietnam. The central version is generally lighter in colour, smaller and cooked in clay moulds (pictured below-left). These hand-sized crepes can be served open-faced or folded over. Pieces of the banh xeo and raw vegetables are wrapped in either rice paper or lettuce alongside herbs.
The southern style of banh xeo (banh xeo mien tay) – which we will discuss in this article – is prevalent in towns all across the Mekong Delta as well as the metropolitan city of Saigon. The southern dish’s signature characteristics include its bright yellow colour, massive size (ideal for sharing) and lettuce wrapping (pictured below-right).
Ingredients and How Banh Xeo is Made
The three main components of banh xeo are batter, fillings and a plate of fresh herbs and vegetables.
No matter the region, the batter typically consists of rice flour, water and green onions. For a delicious southern flavour, coconut milk and turmeric are also added (the latter of which is responsible for the rich golden hue). A thin layer of this batter is poured over the hot skillet, typically a large double-handled wok, and left to sizzle for about half a minute.
Next come the fillings, which by default calls for prawns and thinly sliced pork, bean sprouts and mung beans (vegetarian and seafood versions are also popular). After these ingredients are heated atop the crispy exterior, the banh xeo is folded over and served to the guests. Assuming the frying pan is fully heated beforehand, the entire cooking process takes roughly two minutes.
How to Eat Banh Xeo
Like many Vietnamese dishes, eating banh xeo takes a bit of assembly. Served alongside the crispy banh xeo are a plate of assorted herbs and vegetables. Also unique to southern-style banh xeo is a sweet and sour dipping sauce made from fish sauce, lime, chili, garlic and sugar.
Take a large of piece of lettuce, then line it with aromatic herbs such as cilantro, perilla (mint leaves) and mustard greens. Break off a piece or two of the crispy banh xeo and its fillings, then roll up the ingredients like a lettuce wrap, dip it into the fish sauce and enter a world of deliciousness!
Where to Find Banh Xeo in Saigon – Or Aboard a Mekong Delta Cruise with Heritage Line
For those traveling to Vietnam’s bustling city of Saigon, finding Vietnamese pancakes is relatively effortless given the number of establishments serving this tasty treat.
For tableside service, a couple of options are Banh Xeo An La Ghien (11A Tu Xuong, District 3) and Co Ba Vung Tau (locations throughout the city).
But since part the enjoyment is seeing and hearing the sizzle of banh xeo up close and personal, many travellers opt for a street side vendor. Most food tours will include one of these on the itinerary, but for adventurous explorers we recommend:
- Banh Xeo 46A (46 Dinh Cong Trang, District 1): Undoubtedly the most famous of all banh xeo establishments (expect a large crowd, however). Feel free approach the cooking station where each worker simultaneously operates several burners. While in the area, also consider a visit to the pink Tan Dinh Church nearby.
- Banh Xeo Nga (251 Nguyen Thien Thuat, District 1): Tucked away in a hidden residential neighbourhood, you can grab a seat right at the table where the owners prepares banh xeo.
Heritage Line also serves banh xeo for lunch aboard our two boutique luxury ships, The Jahan and Jayavarman. Unforgettable 7-, 4- and 3-night cruise itineraries explore the lower Mekong River’s enlightening sights and sounds between Saigon (Vietnam) and Siem Reap (Cambodia).