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The Soothing Sizzle of Bánh Xèo

When we got in the van at 8:30am to head out to the Cu Chi Tunnels, we started asking our guide about banh xeo, the sizzling cake made from rice batter that's popular throughout Vietnam. The "xeo" part of the name refers to the sound the cakes make when they're seared in a scorching wok. Banh xeo take seconds to make, but the technique takes hours of practice. On the way back from our trip, the driver dropped us off in front of Bánh Xèo Ngọc Sơn. It was close to where we were staying, and just so happened to be his favorite place to get banh xeo.

The open store fronts are incredibly inviting. People gathered to eat, socialize, catch up, and listen to the soothing sizzle of banh xeo being cooked.

The woks used to cooked the banh xeo at Bánh Xèo Ngọc Sơn are right in front of the restaurant just steps in off the sidewalk. The hope is that the sizzle will attract passersby. Helping faciliate the banh xeo symphony is about a quarter cup of oil in each wok. With a gentle hand and deft movements, the cook is able to swirl the oil around so that the perfect char forms on the outside of the crepe.

We sat upstairs along the edge of the balcony and took in the sights and sounds of Vietnam's Saigon streets while we waited for our banh xeo.

Mustard leaves, fish leaves, mint, and basil come to the table so the banh xeo may be eaten as wraps.

Behold the $2.40 banh xeo. Variations exist throughout the country, but you'll find the biggest and thinnest in Southern Vietnam. The batter is spread around the wok after it's poured in and the large cooking surface results in the gratuitous shape and delicate thinness. In the north and south, banh xeo take on a yellow hue from the inclusion of turmeric powder in the batter. The addition of coconut milk gives the final product a slightly rich, fatty flavor. Consistencies in banh xeo are found in ingredients: bean sprouts, green onions, shrimp, and pork. Unique to southern banh xeo is the addition of mung beans, the starch from which is used to make glass noodles. In the south, a sweet and sour fish sauce-based condiment is served with the dish.

In parts of Vietnam, banh xeo are served open-faced, rather than being folded before they're served like they are in Saigon. The fold makes for a more manageable finger food and shows off the char that results from the quick sear.

Bánh Xèo Ngọc Sơn | 103 Ngô Quyền, Phường 11, Quận 5, Saigon | 84 8 3853 7486

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