The best banh xeo in Phnom Penh? I recently had a craving for Vietnamese food, which is kind of a funny craving to get when you are in Cambodia, because there are a hell of a lot of damned similar foods.
Vietnam has Banh Mi, Cambodia has Num Pang, the both have loc lak (although spelt different). And then there is banh xeo.
To read about loc lak click here
To read about num pang click here .
What’s in a name? Banh Xeo vs Banh Chao
We first discovered banh chao, which is the Khmer version of the isn last year when it was introduced to us by a Cambodian friend. Upon seeing it our local Vietnam expert declared it a Vietnamese dish. Hilarity prevailed as they argued the point.
You can read bout banh chao here . In the interests of todays article we will talk about the Vietnamese banh xeo.
What is Bánh xèo?
Banh xeo is a crispy, stuffed rice pancake popular in Vietnam, and indeed Cambodia. It can be found in fining dining joints, as well as a very simple street food snack. It solves meats, vegetables, and lots of weird herbs.
The really fun part about banh xeo is creating a weird sandwich by stuffing all these ingredients into a leaf. It might sound weird, but this dish is the bomb!
What does banh mean?
If you have ever a vague knowledge of Vietnamese food then you will see the word banh everywhere. Like in the aforementioned banh mi. Banh lonely translates as cake, or bread, depending on the context. With banh mi it denotes the bread that makes the sandwich.
Interestingly it can also refer to rather inedible things that look like cake, or bread, such as bánh xe – which means care tire!
What does Xeo mean?
The Xeo in Banh Xeo means “sizzle”. So it literally means “sizzling cake”. Cool ah. But, I’m guessing you are none the wiser about what the dish actually is, so lets get to that part.
What is banh xeo?
You start with a savoury fried pancake made of rice flour, water, and turmeric powder. A vVietnamese crepe if you will! When you are doing this as s street food you will see them create the pancake in front of you. Very cool!
If you’re in Siem Reap check out 60 meter street, great for street food in general, but particular this dish. You can read about here .
The pancake then gets stuff with “stuff”, these can include shrimp and all manner of meats, but the most popular seems to be minced pork, onions and bean sprouts, at least in my experience.
But wait, there’s more! It then gets served with a huge plate of leaves. These include mint leaves, lettuce, thai basil and in Cambodia at least “Jungle leaves”. I have never had a Khmer able to describe exactly what these are, but they taste good.
So, we have established it is a mix mash of a whole heap of ingredients that sound like they won’t go together, so how do you eat the damned thing? This is the fun part.
How do you eat Banh Xeo?
How do you eat it? Lets do this ins stages!
- Rip off some of the pancake
- Use the pancake to scoop up the meat and bean sprouts
- Grab a leaf, lettuce or otherwise
- Wrap the whole thing in the leaf
- Eat it
So, that is how you eat banh xeo! The leaf almost acting like the bread to a sandwich. It kind of reminded me of Korean BBQ, where you also wrap the meat in lettuce. FYI best place for this is the Duck BBQ restaurant in Pyongyang!
I will write about there at some point.
How does banh xeo taste?
The pancake is great, crispy on the outside, soft in the middle, minced pork is minced pork, but it is the leaf that makes all the difference. Wrapping this in a minty, or herb like piece of greenery is what gives banh xeo such a unique taste.
Banh Xeo vs Banh Chao what is the difference?
Well, not all that much if I am honest, perhaps with the exemption of the laves that you are provided. Everything is about what local ingredients are available. And it is that point that makes’ the dish as unpredictable as it is amazing.
The best in Phnom Penh?
Again to be clear we are talking banh xeo, not បាញ់ឆែវ OK? So to qualify you gotta be Vietnamese! Magnolia Restaurant, which you can read about here, is the best Vietnamese Restaurant in Phnom Penh. So the story goes they are famous for their banh xeo. We had it, it was good.
BUT! Whilst I enjoyed it, to me banh xeo is best served as street food, rather than as a fine dining type affair.
And that’s all you need to know about banh xeo!