The student news site of La Salle Catholic College Preparatory.

The La Salle Falconer

The student news site of La Salle Catholic College Preparatory.

The La Salle Falconer

The student news site of La Salle Catholic College Preparatory.

The La Salle Falconer

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter!
* indicates required

Stick a Fork in It: Haylee Nguyen’s Bánh Xèo

Danica Glazier
Bánh xèo is a savory pancake-like dish originating from Central Vietnam. It is most often found as a street food, typically filled with various ingredients such as pork belly, shrimp, bean sprouts, and more.

Welcome to the sixth edition of Stick a Fork in It, the series where we explore the foods that La Salle loves. Each week’s new piece features a different dish volunteered by La Salle’s students and staff. 

This week, the feature selection is bánh xèo, a Vietnamese dish recommended by freshman Haylee Nguyen due to its ease, simplicity, and connection to Vietnamese culture.

One of the reasons Nguyen chose this dish is in part to inform people about the “depth” her culture holds and the risk of generalization when the same dishes are repeatedly spotlighted over others.

“There’s so much more to Vietnamese cuisine that people don’t know about,” Nguyen said.

Bánh xèo is understood to have originated from Miền Trung, also known as Central Vietnam, during the Tay Son era (1771-1802) and is commonly sold by street vendors. The literal name translates to sizzling cake, which is true to the sound it’ll make when the batter is poured into the oiled pan. 

Bánh xèo consists of a fried rice flour batter, thinned out, and filled with interchangeable variations of proteins and vegetables, but some of the typical ingredients are “pork, prawns, diced green onion, mung bean, and bean sprouts,” resulting in a similar appearance to a crepe, however, the distinct yellow color from the turmeric sets it apart.

Bánh xèo is a frequent meal in Nguyen’s family because “it’s not hard to make” and since it’s so “versatile,” with many interchangeable ingredients. For Nguyen, she does not include pork as a pescatarian, and will either go without it or substitute it with shrimp.

Similarly, the dish’s variability is demonstrated by other cultures in regions beyond central Vietnam

For example, bánh xèo can be wrapped in rice paper or removed of pork and bean sprouts entirely and substituted with seafood and a combination of sauces. In the south of Vietnam, the range of ingredients increases to mushrooms, coconuts, or lotus. Although, the dish can be brought together with a side as well — like star fruit and bananas — which is a highlight from Central Vietnam and herbs and greens coming from the south. 

If you went to the Miền Trung region, you could see bánh xèo be as small as an adult’s hand accompanied by a sweet and sour fish sauce used for dipping, which also includes a distinct fermented shrimp paste. In comparison, bánh xèo in Mien Tay (Mekong Delta), a further southern portion of Vietnam, has a greater increase in size than the former.

This is explained clearly by an online lifestyle magazine for foreign residents and English-speaking Vietnamese in Saigon, the Saigoneer: “the further south you go, the bigger the bánh xèo gets.”

Not only do regions play part in various sizes, but they also impart an impact on ingredients because of their perceptible climates. The weather in southern Vietnam is more tropical, hence the ingredients available for bánh xèo are more widespread to things like green beans and jicama, whereas the dish in its central counterpart won’t have as many options for filling as a result of their “limited fertile soil and a less favorable climate.” 

Many believe that because of the thin, flat shape resembling a traditional French crepe, bánh xèo arose during the time Vietnam was part of a French colony with other countries, known as French Indochina. However, this is likely untrue, as it emerged far before the time of French colonization, which occurred from 1858 to 1945, up until the first president of North Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, declared the country’s independence.

However, for Nguyen, the dish stems from her childhood and family — her mother and grandmother — who have cooked it and still cook it for her to this day. 

During the at-home process of making bánh xèo, Nguyen will help by preparing the batter while her mom handles the frying. According to Nguyen, “in Asian cuisine, you measure with your heart,” so her family does not follow a specific recipe when cooking bánh xèo.

Yet even without a recipe, she rates the dish an easy 10 out of 10, as long as it’s made and eaten fresh. After a few hours, the crispiness will reduce along with its quality.

In terms of flavor, she described it as a dish not limited to one standard. While bánh xèo is primarily savory, it is also sweet, salty, and has an emphasis on the turmeric which is used in the batter.

Another bonus to this multifaceted dish is that it can be enjoyed year round and made to the chef’s desire. “It’s something that you eat whenever,” Nguyen said.

If it comes to choosing between bánh xèo at a restaurant or bánh xèo at home, the comfortability of the latter stands out. “I definitely prefer the way I make it at home because it’s more atoned to my tastes,” she said. Making bánh xèo at home gives you the freedom of choosing what ingredients to incorporate or not, especially if you have dietary restrictions like Nguyen.

While the process of making it yourself isn’t difficult, a majority of the time will come from the preparation of the batter. Most recipes will say to let the batter rest from anywhere from an hour to three hours or overnight. This can be done at room temperature, but if you let your batter sit in the fridge during this time, it helps create a crispy bottom and chewy top.

The crisp factor is essential to a good bánh xèo. Nguyen noted that it was one of the reasons she enjoys it, and because as a little kid the simple flavors also appealed to her.

If you’re interested in making bánh xèo at home, Nguyen provided a recipe here, which includes the ingredients she uses with her family, but is best taken with leisure and to your liking since most elements are adaptable.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

We'd love to hear your thoughts! Let us know what you think about this story by submitting a comment below. We welcome respectful comments that engage in conversations.

Comments are moderated, and won't appear until they are approved. An email address is required, but won't be publicly displayed. The Falconer's complete comment policy can be viewed on our policies page.
All The La Salle Falconer Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *