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Vietnamese pancakes, otherwise known as banh xeo, are very thin, slightly crispy, pan-fried crepes. Chefs stuff the crepes with a variety of fillings, including vegetables and meats, and serve them with dipping sauces. As the name suggests, Vietnamese pancakes originated in Vietnam and are a popular part of the country’s cuisine, but they are enjoyed in other areas as well.
Banh xeo, the Vietnamese name for this dish, actually means “sizzling cake.” Unlike the traditional American-style pancake, though, Vietnamese pancakes are not served for breakfast and are usually not served with sweet toppings or fillings. Rather, the dish is presented primarily as a lunch or dinner entrée.
In order to make traditional Vietnamese pancakes, chefs create a thin batter from rice flour, tumeric, and green onions. Sometimes, they add coconut milk, which gives the crepe a slightly sweet flavor. Generally, Vietnamese cooks heat oil in a well-seasoned wok and swirl a small amount of batter into the pan to create a thin, crepe-like shell. While the shell is still cooking, they add the ingredients to fill the pancake before folding it over, omelet-style. Once the edges get crispy and the filling is warmed, it is ready to serve.
The fillings used for Vietnamese pancakes vary widely and are largely dependent upon a chef’s individual tastes or the particular meats and vegetables that are in season. Oftentimes, cooks use thin strips of seasoned pork, succulent shrimp, or chopped chicken to stuff the pancakes. Vegetables, such as bean sprouts or green beans, are often added to the mix. Chefs may serve the pancakes with a sweet-and-sour fish sauce for dipping. The sauce has a strong, slightly spicy taste that complements the mild flavor of the pancakes.
Traditionally, Vietnamese pancakes are not eaten with utensils, but rather, diners use their hands. For this purpose, broad lettuce leaves or other similar greens are included on the plate. This way, those enjoying the culinary treat can use a lettuce leaf to grasp a part of the pancake and dip it into the sauce. Those inexperienced with the process might find it a little messy but delicious nonetheless.
Vietnamese pancakes not only taste and smell enticing, but they make an attractive presentation on the plate as well. The tumeric gives the shell an attractive, bright-yellow color, and the green onion in the batter offers a pleasant, eye-appealing contrast. While the delicacy is enjoyed throughout Vietnam, the pancakes vary slightly in size and thickness from region to region. Similarly, the types of fillings and dipping sauce also vary. For those who are interested in embarking on a culinary adventure, a number of recipes for Vietnamese pancakes can be found on the Internet.