Sushi, tom yam, rendang, pizza, dim sum, fish and chips etc.. each of them is an identity. They are icons and culinary ambassadors of the country they belong to. It is impossible not to associate Japan with sashimi, China with dim sum, India with tandoori chicken and in so many ways they play a role in cementing a nation’s gastronomic reputation. Of course there’s chicken rice and chilli crabs in Singapore. This is the art of gastro-travel. Eat their story and digest their culture. Many countries in Asia and especially South East Asia has food with influences from “motherland” food nations like India, China and the Middle East, like noodles (in so many forms), and even Chinese style curries. Then there’s Pho from Vietnam, a beef noodle soup but it has many variants from Guangzhou and Chaozhou and even Thailand. They influence each other because of the ancient trading routes and migratory patterns. But the truly iconic item I have come across in Vietnam, is Banh Xeo. A thin rice flour and egg batter topped with meat and shrimps and crunched up with bean sprouts and eaten wrapped with lettuce or local salad leaves. I have not come across anything similar in the regions I have travelled to in my makan pursuits. Banh Xeo to me, says “Vietnam”.
This stall was invited to participate at our World Street Food Congress in 2017 in Philippines and they made a splash for so many reasons. Firstly, the way made it- they stir fried some pork slices, with shrimps and as they sizzled, the yellowish batter is spread over the wok from the edge and downwards, just so the pancake corners will come out thin and crispy. A mount of bean sprouts is added towards the end so they remain fresh and crunchy. Then there’s speed- to handle the throngs that line up patiently for it, they handle at least three woks at a time, continuously. Each pancake had to be rendered consistently or they will burn very quickly, so maximum attention to fire control is critical. I recently went back to the Vietnam to revisit this stall and was glad to see a long and patient queue for their banh xeo. Everything was as I remembered, down to the beaten up and seasoned woks with knocks all over its base. I think this is deliberate to the batter does not stick easily to the wok. It just feels healthy how they serve it (though many would beg to differ because it is fried) with the big basket of greens and leaves with a bowl of their own made fish sauce with pickled greens. You desecrate the folded pancake with wrap a piece in the leaf, dunk it in the fish sauce and devour. Very comforting and feels more like a salad. They also offer grilled pork chunks and fried spring rolls on the side and it adds to the sin here. Wonderful. The banh xeo came with thin and translucent edges and that is a skill all on its own. I have had many banh xeo in Singapore and even in California (where there’s a huge Vietnamese community) and believe me, nothing comes close to this version there.
So that’s my art of being a galloping gourmet of authenticity. Take the route less travelled and ask or speak to the locals for the real deal.
Banh Xeo Bun Thit Nuong
82/12, Nguyen Cong Hoan,
Phuong 7, Phu Nhuan
Tel: 028 3841 865
Mobile: 0919248 015
Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam