Updated  
February, 21 2012 10:35:34

Sizzling banh xeo: a southern specialty

 

Food with a view: The food is cooked outdoors on a wood-fired stove.
Affordable fine dining: Banh Xeo Dinh Cong Trang has a regular clientele of locals, but it is also popular with tourists.
 
Stuffed rice-flour pancakes are a big hit with foreign visitors. Xuan Hiep searches for the very best HCM City has to offer.On your next visit to HCM City, check out one of the the city's most internationally recognised dishes, the banh xeo, a rice-flour pancake folded in half and stuffed with pork, shrimp and bean sprouts.

From a list of well-known Vietnamese traditional foods including pho (noodle soup), goi cuon (vegetable spring roll), com tam (broken rice) and banh my thit (bread stuffed with meat and vegetables), banh xeo was selected as the most representative Vietnamese food during a voting contest for the citywide tourism campaign, HCM City – 100 Interesting Things.

Banh xeo, which is served with a variety of vegetables and herbs, typifies southern cuisine.

Among many kinds of banh xeo that have emerged in the city recently, banh xeo Dinh Cong Trang should be your top priority.

I have tried several brands of banh xeo in the city like A Phu, An La Ghien and Muoi Xiem, but I was most pleased by banh xeo Dinh Cong Trang, which was recommended by a friend.

Last week, we paid a visit to Banh Xeo Dinh Cong Trang when the eatery was busiest.

Upon our arrival, we could see that all the seats were occupied, but luckily a couple was about to leave.

We took the table, but we noticed that other customers had to wait about 15 minutes before they were seated.

Located on 46A Dinh Cong Trang St in HCM City's District 1, a 15-minute walk from the city centre, Banh Xeo Dinh Cong Trang is easy to find.

Opened for more than half of a century, in 1945, the restaurant has attracted many regular patrons, many of whom have been and continue to be foreigners.

Nguyen Thi Le Thuy, 48, the eatery's manager, said she was a member of the third generation to manage her own family-run business. She said about 40 per cent of her customers are foreigners.

The first thing that strikes you about the place is the sizzling sound of frying pancakes.

The cooking area is open for customer viewing. Wood-fired stoves are used to fry pancakes, which reflect people's lifestyle in the past when there were no gas or electrical appliances.

Sizzling in Vietnamese is translated as xeo xeo, which is an onomatopoeic word. Many people believe that the dish's name banh xeo is derived from the word. No one seems to know when the dish was first made in the south.

The pancake consists of rice flour mixed with coconut milk, shrimp, ba roi (half-fat and half-lean pork), green beans and bean sprouts, in addition to other ingredients, depending on the cook. The yellow colour of the pancake comes from the turmeric added to the rice flour.

The stuffing for the pancake can be composed of many ingredients, including mushrooms.

The dish is also served with vegetables and herbs, including mustard leaves, mint, basil and others.

The dish is also served with a special fish sauce, which is carefully mixed and prepared by the chef.

While the banh xeo from the central region has a thicker stuffing and is smaller, the banh xeo Dinh Cong Trang covers the entire pan, leaving a thin, crispy edge and containing only a little oil. The coconut milk mixed in the rice flour in the southern version of the dish enhances the flavour as well.

 

Having your pancake and eating it: Banh xeo (rice flour pancake stuffed with shrimp, pork, green beans and bean sprouts), is served with vegetables, herbs and fish sauce.

BANH XEO DINH CONG TRANG

Address: 46A Dinh Cong Trang Street, District 1, HCM City

Tel: (08) 38241110 – 38205160

Hours: 10am – 10pm

Prices: VND50,000-200,000 (US$2.4-9.5)

Comment: Good food, reasonable prices, prime location, popular with foreign tourists

To eat banh xeo like a local, cut it into manageable slices, roll it up in mustard or lettuce leaves and dip it in the fish sauce.

Foreigners often say that banh xeo is special because they have to use their hands to tear pieces off.

No wonder that banh xeo was chosen as one of the three most delicious dishes of Viet Nam by CNN.

In addition to banh xeo, the eatery also offers a variety of Sai Gon specialties, including cha gio (fried spring roll), goi cuon (fresh spring roll), chicken, pork, shrimp and crab, among others.

Although the eatery is always crowded, especially after 5pm, the staff of 15, some of whom can speak English and Japanese, serve you attentively.

However, for those who prefer a quiet atmosphere or cosy ambience, this place might be a bit disappointing. We had to speak loudly when in need of help. The waiters, however, were quick to meet our requests.

While I was surprised at the level of noise, we were pleasantly serenaded by a few lottery ticket sellers who were singing and playing the guitar and visiting many tables.

Banh Xeo Dinh Cong Trang is deservedly popular among locals, but it is also a great place for foreigners to experience Sai Gon's unique gastronomic atmosphere. — VNS

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