While ‘phở’, ‘bánh mì’ and ‘bún chả’ hog the spotlight in Vietnamese cuisines for a long time, ‘Bánh xèo’ – savory Vietnamese pancakes- have become to earn their place among the pantheon of roadside Vietnamese fare. This savory Vietnamese pancakes get their name from the sound of rice flour sizzling on a hot pan – ‘bánh xèo’ literally means “sizzling cake” – and showcase a range of local ingredients depending upon the region it is served.
Though it’s unclear when these Vietnamese pancakes first came into existence, but their origin hailed from the center of Vietnam. During the Tay Son era, Vietnamese pancakes have gained its popularity with the locals. They would switch up their usual rice diet on the second and 16th day of the lunar month, opting for these Vietnamese pancakes in place of their typical meal.
To date, people believe that savory Vietnamese pancakes are a direct descendant of Hue’s ‘bánh khoái’. Their recipes perhaps were borrowed from Cham culture some centuries ago, or were inspired by South Indian cuisines all the way back in the first millennia.
Whatever the origin, the Vietnamese pancakes have begot countless variations. In Binh Dinh, Quang Ngai and Quang Nam provinces, locals wrap their medium-sized ‘bánh xèo’ in rice paper. In Khanh Hoa, Ninh Thuan and Binh Thuan, local residents cook trade pork and bean, sprouted for seafood, with a particularly delicious combination of fish sauce, chilis and peanut sauce. These smaller pancakes are sometimes wrapped in fresh greens or not wrapped at all.
Chefs in the center of Vietnam include star fruit and banana among their accompaniments, while southern chefs might toss mushrooms, coconut or even lotus into Vietnamese crepes. Across the country, everyone tinkers with the exact ratio of ‘Deeping sauces’ ingredients, which can feature lemon, chili, fish sauce and a whole host of other things because it’s a Vietnamese dipping sauce so of course it can.
The further south you go, the bigger the Vietnamese pancakes gets. In Can Tho, Bien Hoa and Saigon, giant Vietnamese pancakes packed with bean and pork, shrimp, bean sprouts and come with an accompanying plate of herbs and fresh greens.
Its popularity in the southern hub, however, is a more recent development: VnEconomy suggests this Vietnamese pancakes weren’t all that common in Saigon during the 1960s or ‘70s, but in the 1980s, as more workers came to the city, some of them from central Vietnam, Vietnamese pancakes began to gain in popularity thanks to its portability. Back in the day, ‘bánh xèo’ made an especially tasty and convenient meal for farmers, who would wrap the crepes in banana leaves and bring them along to the rice fields
As more central Vietnamese arrived in Saigon, food carts popped up on street corners serving Vietnamese crepes, which were a decidedly meal with reasonable price, reserved solely for the working-class. As more affluent Saigonese found out about the dish, however, Vietnamese pancakes eventually worked its way onto restaurant menus. But if you ask us which ones are better, we would say the street side variety is still the best .
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