One of the most unique and delicious Vietnamese foods that is not commonly known to most non-Vietnamese people is a savory meat-filled Vietnamese crepe called bánh xèo. Bánh xèo looks like a large omelette, but it actually does not contain any eggs at all! It is a rice flour-based crepe that is filled with mung beans, ground meat, shrimp, and bean sprouts, and served with fresh lettuce and herbs and nước chấm (fish sauce dipping sauce). The yellow color of the crepe comes from turmeric powder mixed into the batter, and from the mung beans added during cooking.
If you've never had it, I REALLY encourage you to venture out from the usual noodles, pho, and spring rolls to try this. You will experience something truly unique and tastefully rewarding that you will be sure to brag about to your friends.
I've never made bánh xèo myself, but my grandma and mom have and I've had it at restaurants. During my short break back at home with my family, my mom asked me what I wanted her to make for dinner. I suggested bánh xèo and she got real excited. She has only made it once before and was eager to try it again. Plus, we both knew how tasty the final product would be. Crispy pancake edges, creamy mung beans, caramelized sweet onions, salty-sweet nước chấm, umami meat, and refreshing greens! So many flavors! I'm surprised the food trend people and renowned food critics are not gushing over this yet!
The nước chấm for this Vietnamese dish is slightly sweeter than normal nước chấm used for things such as noodle salads (bun). To make the dipping sauce, you add fresh lime juice and minced garlic to sugar, let the acid and garlic permeate the sugar, add a lot of water, then add a good amount of fish sauce till you reach the right balance of sweet, salty, and umami. One site you can find some ratios for ingredients is VietWorldKitchen.
To make the crepes, we used a pre-made bánh xèo mix. Here are some suggested bags to grab:
They are basically rice flour, self-rising flour, and turmeric, which are easy to make at home if you do not have access to these mixes. They also instructions in Vietnamese and rough English translations on the back.
Here is what me and my mom did:
Bánh Xèo (Vietnamese Sizzling Crepes)
1 bag of bánh xèo mix, 1 can coconut milk (8 oz), and 3.5 cups of water
2-3 stalks of green onion, green and white parts, chopped
1 lb of ground meat (normally pork, but we used chicken to be healthier)
1 lb of shrimp, cleaned, deveined (usually the hard skin/shell is left on, but we removed it because i don't like the sharp crunch)
2 whole yellow onions
Lots of garlic cloves, minced and divided
1 bag of mung beans (I think most bags are around 12 oz.), soaked for an hour
1 bag of bean sprouts, washed and dry
2-3 heads of lettuce
Lots of Vietnamese herbs (purple perilla, Vietnamese mint, fish mint)
Prepared nước chấm
- Take the soaked mung beans and boil them in water for a few minutes. You only want to add enough water and to boil it long enough for the beans to soak up the water and not get mushy. Put into a bowl and set aside (drain excess water if any).
- Dice 1 whole onion, mince the garlic.
- Saute the onion in oil until it starts to turn yellow, then add half of the garlic. Once that begins to turn brown, add the ground meat. Season with a bit of sea salt and black pepper. Use your spoon or chop sticks to break up the meat and cook through. Pour into a separate bowl and set aside.
- Saute the remaining garlic till just brown then add the shrimp. Add black pepper. Cook through (do not over cook). Remove to a separate bowl and cut the shrimp in half lengthwise (the shrimp as they are are too thick to fold nicely into the crepes). Set aside.
- Slice remaining onion into thin strips. Saute in lots of oil until caramelized. Remove to a bowl lined with paper to soak up excess oil.
- Prepare the crepe mix. Add the turmeric powder to the rice flour mix. Pour in coconut milk and water. Stir. Add in diced green onions. Let sit for ~10 minutes.
- Wash the lettuce and herbs. Put into colanders to drip dry. Prepare the nước chấm if not done so yet.
- Now prepare to make the crepes. Take the individual bowls of crepe batter, meat, shrimp, mung bean, and bean sprouts and place them near the stove.
- Using a large nonstick skillet with a wide base (~10 inches) over high heat, pour in a generous amount of oil to cover the surface. Throw in some meat, shrimp, and onions on one side, then pour a small ladle of the batter into the pan, distributing the batter into a thin layer. Plug up any holes with extra batter. Immediately throw onto the half with the meat and onions, generous spoonfuls of mung bean then bean sprouts.
- Fry until the edges are lifting and the crepe is crispy. Fold the crepe and remove to a plate. Repeat with remaining batter and fillings.
- To serve: place crepe on a plate, serve with lettuce, herbs, and nước chấm. Provide bowls for the dipping sauce. Use chopsticks and spoons to eat.
- Traditional way to eat (messy): break off a piece of the crepe. Take a full lettuce leaf, top with fresh herbs and the piece of crepe. Fold over like a little lettuce burrito, dip into the nước chấm and eat.
- Alternate way to eat (clean): break up crepe into a bowl, top with ripped lettuce and herbs. Drizzle in however much nước chấm you want. Eat with chopsticks.
I hope this is helpful to anyone looking to try a new ethnic dish. It is very time-consuming for sure, but the results are rewarding and the presentation is fabulous. Everyone will be oohing and aahing at your next dinner!