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Banh Xeo: The Heavenly Chicken Pancake

This next post is dedicated to the witty, wise, and w-ridiculous Ray Newton (pictured, right, in the classy purple shirt). Ray was a student in my English class for four straight years (the lucky duck!) from ninth grade to twelfth. I watched Ray grow from a sunglasses-wearing pup who stared in awe at the Aquarium fishtanks during our field trip until we forcibly pulled him out, to a sunglasses-wearing scholar who had the funniest (but also most insightful) reflections on MacBeth and Gatsby’s neuroses.

While chatting online with Ray yesterday evening (forcing him to recite historical facts from his impending college test on 1500 years of Western History), I mentioned that I’d eaten a delicious Vietnamese food earlier: a chicken pancake wrapped in lettuce. Ray did not believe me. Therefore, it was my quest this afternoon to re-find and subsequently document this fascinating food item, thus maintaining my teacherly credibility.

Strolling back into the 333 Family Restaurant, the waiter named Daniel laughed and said, “Back again! You want Chicken Pancake second time?” He meant it as a joke. When I nodded my head vigorously, Daniel put his hand to his cheek and gasped, “Oh my.”

While the restaurant owner’s mother whipped together the sizzling ingredients, Daniel and I had a lovely chat. He is studying tourism and English, and hopes to one day lead tour groups around the world. One dream of his is to visit his Aunt who lives just a few blocks from my dear brother in San Francisco! He gave me some tips on towns to visit in Vietnam., and on dealing with evil, dishonest taxi drivers. At this point, the owner’s daughter and infant granddaughter screeched up on a motorcycle and began being cute all over the place.

And then the Chicken Pancake arrived. Succulent heaven! We snapped photos left. right, and center. Want to make it? Buen Xoe is a Vietnamese Pancake created with rice flour, coconut milk (oh mmm!!), scallions, and spices, and filled with meat and bean sprouts. On the side is sweet, spicy orange fish sauce (Daniel screamed at me after I dumped the whole bowl onto my pancake– whoops), and a fluffily heaped plate of lettuce and (we think) mint. (Daniel couldn’t remember the word in English, and it didn’t really look like American mint… but it’s tasty!)

Daniel reviewed his eating instructions from yesterday when he saved me from making a complete fool of myself for not knowing how to assemble the elements. First, take a wide leaf of lettuce. Then, cut off a chunk of the pancake, making sure to get some of that steamy filling, and put it on top of the lettuce. Then, pinch off several mint leaves and stick them on top. Pour on some fish sauce. Roll up the whole thing and chomp it down! It’s light but filling, sweet but savory, messy (if you’re me) but utterly delicious. YUM!

Now a quick note about traveling savvy. When in a country with un-drinkable water, you are not supposed to eat any vegetable that has not been peeled or cooked. Lettuce is a bad idea. That said, I’m going to take my chances on this one, for the sake of cultural immersion and my general food lust. Ray Newton– when and if I develop a stomach parasite, I’m sending you the medical bill! Hehe– just joking.

As a final note, it is worth mentioning that street peddlers (“Sunglasses? Lighters? Books? Dried Jellyfish? Wallets?”) walk right in restaurants to hawk their wares. Check out the response of one restaurant, pictured to the right: a sign to put at the end of your table that reads: “NO BUY, THANK YOU! PLEASE DON’T BOTHER US. IF YOU DON’T LIKE TO BE ANNOYINGLY”!

Oooh man… if only I’d had this when Ray was being “mad aggy” in class :)

(Just joking, Ray… You’re the best! I hope you like your you-dedicated article!)

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ChinaMatt

Tuesday 18th of February 2014

Realized the restaurant Anthony Bourdain ate this at in Saigon is near me, so I'll have to try it there. And those hawkers in restaurants are annoying. I was busy eating in Hanoi when a guy wouldn't leave me alone--I almost took a bite of his hand. They should know to not bother me while eating.

Lillie

Tuesday 18th of February 2014

Hah! Amazing!

Scott Norris

Saturday 6th of October 2012

Had this for the first time in Tokyo, of all places, but have found a few places here in Minneapolis/St. Paul that also do a great job of it. In fact, the places here do use mint as one of the garnishes ... gives the dish a warm yet cool and refreshing feel, great for a summer meal.

Lillie

Monday 8th of October 2012

Mmm, delicious!

Triston Xie

Friday 10th of February 2012

The mint you are talking about is actually basil. You can get this at Chinatown. But it yours look much tastier.

San Dam

Sunday 16th of October 2011

My grandma makes this for dinner a lot. I eat Banh Xeo every time I go to Vietnam because that is my favorite meal.

Kelly

Monday 10th of October 2011

Haha, my family eats that for dinner sometimes, but I don't like it. I'm not sure why. My family is from the Southern part of Vietnam so they cook a lot of Vietnamese food for meals. I must admit, some of them are really delicious! :)

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