Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mom's Recipes: Bánh Xèo (Vietnamese Savoury Crepes)

Bánh xèo is described in Wikipedia (they have an entry!) as
"Vietnamese crepe-type pancakes made out of rice flour, water and turmeric powder or coconut milk (in the Southern regions) stuffed with slivers of fatty pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts and is pan fried. They are served wrapped in lettuce leaves and stuffed with mint leaves or other herbs, and dipped in a prepared nước mắm (Vietnamese fish sauce) or soy sauce. In the Central region, the pancake is dipped in a special 'tuong' sauce which consists of liver, hoisin sauce and garlic. Southern style Bánh xèo are larger compared to the small pan-fried versions in the Central regions."

Bánh xèo gets its name from the sizzling sound it is supposed to make "Xxxxxxxxèèèèèo!"

As the description above implies, there are many versions of bánh xèo. My mother, being from Central Vietnam, makes them crispier. Central Vietnamese bánh xèo tend to be smaller, but I think the size of my mother's bánh xèo is dictated by her frying pan. Huế has a dish called banh khoai, which seem to be a mini version of bánh xèo. When I was young, I used to ask to have my mom's friend, who came from Southern Vietnam, make soft bánh xèo. They are both good in their own way!

Bánh xèo is one of my favourite dishes since I like savoury, crispy food! I am spoiled so my mother will make these when I go home for a visit (as I am now in Montréal). For some hard-to-explain reason, my mother associates rainy weather with bánh xèo, as in "it's raining, hmmm, I could really go for bánh xèo". I guess it's sort of like PMS and chocolate. Anyway, when this happens, I will get a guilty call from my mother in Montréal. "I made bánh xèo, I wish you could be here. Your sister's enjoying them."

I had bánh xèo in Vietnam and none were as satisfactory as my mom's. I don't know if hers are better or just what I'm used to. First of all, my mom is quite generous with her filling while restaurant ones seemed to be quite spare. She has the traditional ingredients (bean sprouts, onions, shrimp, fatty pork) but she also adds beef and mushrooms (that's another bánh xèo evoking ingredient - "I saw these beautiful white mushrooms and I thought we could have bánh xèo"). Second of all, bánh xèo was always served with lettuce and herbs only. You're supposed to roll the bánh xèo in the lettuce. However, I grew up rolling all of the lettuce and herbs in rice paper and I think it's a much more satisfactory combination!

Bánh xèo is a time-consuming effort. You can only make one at a time and it's best eaten fresh off the pan. You have to be real special to be invited for bánh xèo at my mom's! When my mother makes bánh xèo, she'll make one for each of us (customized to specific tastes, no fatty pork in mine, no pork and shrimp in my sister's... I know. SO spoiled!). While we are stuffing our faces, she'll munch on one while cooking, often while having a beer (this time, it was rosé wine).

Wow, that was a long intro with no recipe in sight. Here it is... finally!

Bánh Xèo (makes 12 bánh xèo)

For the batter
My mother's batter oddly does not contain any of the two common ingredients: turmeric or coconut milk. She just adds some soy sauce for colour.

* 1 cup rice flour
* 1 cup tempura mix
* 2-½ cup water
* ½ tsp dark soy sauce

the rice flour, tempura mix and water.
Add the soy sauce.
Set aside.

Ingredients for the filling should be sliced and ready to go because once you start making the bánh xèo, you will have to use them quickly.

* mushrooms, sliced
* onions, sliced
* protein of your choice, sliced or peeled (beef, shrimp, pork, or even tofu)
* bean sprouts
* 2 eggs, beaten

Meat, shrimp and mushrooms ready to go. My mom even got a mushroom mix on sale for $1.49.

To assemble a bánh xèo
Heat oil into a pan - my mom's was an 8" pan. This is not a healthy dish -you need to be generous with the oil to make sure the bánh xèo is crispy.
Stir fry the onions with the protein(s) of your choice and mushrooms.
Add a ladle and a half of the batter on top.
Add a generous handful of bean sprouts (I like a lot!)
Cover with a lid to make sure the top of the batter is cooked also.
Spoon some beaten eggs all over the bánh xèo.
Add more oil (yes, more!) on the edges to make it crispy (my mom says this is what differentiates Central Vietnamese bánh xèo from the Southern one).
When the batter looks cripsy, fold your bánh xèo in two by using chopsticks and lifting one half with a spatula.

Stir frying onions, mushrooms, beef and shrimp.

Ladling the batter onto the pan.

The batter should cover the whole pan but it doesn't have to be too thick.

Adding a handful of bean sprouts.

Covering the pan to make sure the batter is cooked through.

My mom added spoonful of eggs all around.

You can see there is a lot of oil!

The flip: chopsticks are holding one end while the spatula flips the other side.

The bánh xèo is done!

Serve with
The bánh xèo is so rich that it is all about balancing the grea-Z-iness with fresh ingredients like lettuce and cucumber. We also like to have it with something tart. When we're lucky, my mom will find trái khế (star fruit or carambola) or green mango. This time, we had to improvise with green apples.

* rice paper
* lettuce
* cucumber sticks
* a tart fruit
* herbs, such as mint
* nước chấm

Lettuce and herbs.

Cucumbers and green apple - we did not find any green mangoes.

To roll in rice paper (this is how I like it)
Dip rice paper in warm water and place on a flat plate.
Take a portion of bánh xèo - I take about a third - and place it on top of the wet rice paper at one end.
Add ingredients as you like - the lettuce, cucumber and herbs add freshness, a tart ingredient adds contrasts to the bánh xèo's greasiness.
Fold the rice paper over the ingredients, then the edges.
Continue rolling.
Dip in nước chấm.
Repeat until your heart (or stomatch) is content!

You can also just eat bánh xèo on its own dipped in nước chấm or just roll it in lettuce leaves.
P.S. My mother will usually have a few extra ones, that I will enjoy cold in the morning. Kind of like pizza...

Bánh xèo, ready to be eaten.

Placing a piece of bánh xèo on rice paper.

Placing fresh ingredients on the bánh xèo.

Ready to eat, just dip in nước chấm.


Wandering Chopsticks said...

No turmeric or coconut milk is Central style. :) My mom adds beer to the batter for extra crispyness. And we eat it with mam nem.

Miss.Adventure said...

I didn't know that! I just thought my mom was odd!

Wandering Chopsticks said...

Nah, I just keep reaffirming your nguoi Trung-ness. ;)

tranthai said...

Banh Xeo is my favourite dish. Roll in Cai Xanh or la cach and herbs, green... dip in mixed fish sauce ...ym ym

Marti said...

There's a restaurant south of Los Angeles (in Westminster, Orange County) that serves Banh Xeo.

They have a huge menu... pages and pages of dishes. But everyone comes in and orders just the Banh Xeo and Banh Tom.

One Banh Xeo per person and a shared order of Banh Tom: that's my version of a perfect dinner!

Thanks for the recipes and posts!

RecipeOfTheWeek said...

Okay, my stomach is growling now! Drool...
This is how our family make it too (w/o coconut milk).

Glennis said...

I know this post is old, but I have to comment - I just had one of these for the first time at Pho 21 in Canoga Park, and it was amazing! I came to Wandering Chopsticks to find out more about it, especially whether we ate it right. We did, wrapping it in lettuce leaves with herbs. But rice paper seems like a great idea and less messy to eat!

You are my authority on Vietnamese food!

Miss.Adventure said...

Most people eat this wrapped in lettuce but I find rolling it in rice paper holds more. Glad you enjoyed this lesser known Vietnamese dish!

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