I hope you have enjoyed the last few posts on my travels around Vietnam to Hanoi, Halong Bay, Hue, Hoi An, and the Mekong Delta. It’s been exactly two months since I left Vietnam and I’m finally publishing the second to last post of this trip.
Remember my post on “A Different Kind of Bánh Tráng” where I had to ride a motorbike for the first time and I nearly sh*t in my pants? Apologies for the language but it was a rather scary experience where I thought I was going to die a couple deaths over. I much prefer the enclosed space of a car.
Well I was back on that same motorbike a week later when my mom’s friend suggested we go check out this place famous for its Bánh Xèo. This guy apparently knows all the best places in Saigon. So despite my dislike for Bánh Xèo, I decided to go along for the ride again. I fared better this time and didn’t try to squeeze the living daylights out of my driver but it was still a nerve-wracking experience.
Bánh Xèo is often referred to as a Vietnamese savory crepe or Vietnamese pancake. Northern, central, and southern Vietnamese will make Bánh Xèo with slight differences but generally the batter is made with rice flour, water, turmeric, and sometimes coconut milk.
Southern-style Bánh Xèo tend to be larger, thinner, and dare I say crispier, than the other regions. However, the ones at the restaurant we went to seemed to be XXL but I’m no Bánh Xèo expert so perhaps that’s normal-size.
Ngoc Son restaurant (in District 5 of Saigon) has been around for more than 20 years and was bustling when we arrived around 8:00pm. The kitchen overlooks the street and has six large woks dedicated to making Bánh Xèo with one for other fried goodies like spring rolls (Cha Gio) and…
…these muffin things (they contained shrimp and other fillings) which we ordered but I found it bland and didn’t like the texture:
We were shown a table in the upstairs dining room and the first thing that came to my mind was that this used to be someone’s home before it was turned into a restaurant.
But that’s fairly typical of most places we’ve dined at.
As we sat down at the stainless steel chairs and tables, I was mesmerized by the amount of food at the table next to ours and at the size of those Bánh Xèo:
The savory fillings for Bánh Xèo are traditionally pork, shrimp and bean sprouts. Lots of bean sprouts. Always lots of bean sprouts. Just, lots.
But here was something new: Shrimps with their shell still on. I stared at them for a while and wondered why would anyone put shell-on shrimp inside a crepe.
But just like soft-shell crab with their edible shell, these shrimp could also be eaten with their shell on. Soft-shell shrimp, I guess you could call them. They tasted like shrimp but better and with a slight crunch but nothing hard to get stuck to the teeth.
Now the Bánh Xèo are not eaten as is.
There is an assembly process involved like eating a summer roll. But instead of rice paper, a large lettuce leaf is used.
On top of the lettuce leaf goes fresh herbs like Asian basil, purple perilla, and mint. Then everything is rolled up inside the leaf and dipped into the accompanying nuoc cham (Vietnamese fish sauce mixed with garlic, lemon, sugar, and chillis).
Fresh herb basket for the Bánh Xèo assembly:
I was tentative to try the Bánh Xèo as I never enjoyed it in the US. For some unknown reason, eating Bánh Xèo always gave me a sore throat.
I don’t know if it is the oil that is used in the pan-frying or the spice packet (my mom uses a ready-made Bánh Xèo flour mix and I wonder if restaurants do so as well) but something irritates my throat so I’ve always been put-off by the dish ever since I was a small child.
But I was able to eat the Bánh Xèo at Ngoc Son restaurant with no problems at all and happily enjoyed all the flavors and fillings.
In case those gigantic crepes weren’t enough for our hungry bellies, we also ordered summer rolls, spring rolls, soup, and those muffin things.
How much would you expect to pay for all this food?
We were four adults and one child and the bill came to 262,000 VND = US$12.60!
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Ngoc Son Restaurant: 103 Ngo Quyen, P11, District 5, Saigon, Phone; +84 8 8537486.
View Ngoc Son Restaurant for Banh Xeo in a larger map