Banh Xeo is truly the best of Vietnamese street food, in fact it is so good that it even crosses borders! Now living in Cambodia I have been treated to Banh Chao more than once (thats what they call in here) – I have even had banh xeo in a Vietnamese restaurant here, but truly nothing beats real banh xeo in Vietnam.
To read about the Banh Chao click here .
What is Banh Xeo?
Bánh xèo ([ɓǎjŋ̟ sɛ̂w]) is a crispy cake type thing that gets stuffed with all kinds of goodness including meats, herbs, lettuce, prawns onions, bean sprouts and whole host of other top ingredients.
How you have your Banh Xeo depends greatly on where in Vietnam you are, who is cooking and if you having Street Food Banh Xeo, or in posh restaurant!
You can read about the best banh xeo I have had in Phnom Penh here.
OK, so that has not really described what the dish is, so lets break it down and then put it back together!
What is banh in banh xeo?
You have probably heard of and, or eaten banh mi, which for all intents is a Vietnamese baguette. In Cambodia they have a similar if somewhat inferior dish called Num Pang – the num and the banh meaning the same thing.
To read about the best Num Pang in Siem Reap click here
Banh literally means cake in Vietnamese, rather than bread as most people assume. This means it gives its name to numerous dishes that are al extremely different to each other. The banh in banh xeo this refers to the yellow crispy pancake that accompanies this dish. It is a rice pancake that is very crispy on the outside, but very soft in the middle. Apparently it sizzles when you put it in the pan, or skillet, which brings us to the xeo.
What is xeo in banh xeo?
Well I kind of gave the game away with the last sentence there. Xeo means sizzle, or to sizzle, so banh xeo is literally “cake sizzling”, but this is very much more than a cake and this is very much more than a name.
The sizzle part if not what makes Banh Xeo so unique, it is the weird concoction of how they cook it, what you have with it and indeed how you eat this whych make banh xeo a street food sensation.
What is involved in banh xeo
Watching the rice pancake get cooked is really part of the pleasure! It does indeed sizzle and is cooked very quickly. You then traditionally get it served with some lettuce, variations of meat, or fish and local herbs, or more common ones like coriander and the like. I have even had it with mint leaves.
Also you get Vietnamese, or if in Cambodia Cambodian hot sauce. Vietnamese hot sauce tends to be hotter and less sweet, but that is an article for another team. And then you eat it right? I’ll deal with how to eat banh xeo right at the end, next stop origins.
Where is Banh Xeo from?
Banh Xeo is from Vietnam as previously discussed, it has since transcended and moved into places like Cambodia where it is very much a staple of the Street Food scene. There is also a Thai variation known as Khanom bueang Yuan , I for one have not tried this.
The dish originates in Central Vietnam, like DMZ type territory – you can read about street food in Hue here (link). Central Vietnamese Banh Xeo is more fish orientated and has ingredients more suited to the climate and region. Southern Vietnamese Banh Xeo is pretty much indistinguishable to Cambodian Banh Chao, although Cambodia very much use there own herbs.
How do you eat Banh Xeo?
The meat and goodness get served on the banh, the rice-pancake and then you are given the lettuce etc to add to it. You use the “bread” much like injera as the cutlery, add some herbs, chill, spices,, or whatever and then ideally wrap it in a lettuce leaf.
Like a Vietnamese sandwich?
Is Banh Xeo a vietnamese sandwich? Yes and no. Banh Mi is the Vietnamese sandwich, but there are defeated similarities. I would though say in many respects and as previously mentioned it more reminds me of injera of Ethiopian and Eritrean fame.
To read about Eritrean Cuisine click here
Overall though wherever you are this is a great dish for breakfast, lunch dinner, or washed down with some fine Vietnamese, or less than fine Cambodian beer. Is it my favorite Vietnamese street food? No it is not, but as I have said many many times Vietnam has the best street food in the world bar none.
Banh xeo would though certainly make my top ten….