Bánh Xèo (Crispy Vietnamese Rice Pancakes) Recipe
Why It Works
- By borrowing from both southern Vietnamese and central Vietnamese traditions, this recipe is ideal for home cooks, producing bánh xèo that are pan-fried instead of deep-fried but also a manageable size.
- Par-cooking the beansprouts removes moisture, helping the bánh xèo stay crispy.
- Cooking the bánh xèo until they pull away from the side of the pan ensures they will be a crispy success.
You can’t walk 100 feet in the food markets and eateries in Vietnam without encountering a dish made with rice flour, and one of the ones you’ll see the most is bánh xèo. Named for the sizzling sound (xèo) produced as the rice batter hits the hot pan, it’s one of my favorite dishes to make at home, and a favorite street food to seek out. It’s often described as a savory crepe or pancake filled with meat and vegetables, but those descriptors don’t do it justice. It’s much thinner and not fluffy at all like pancakes, and much more crispy than any crepe. I’ve always thought it had much more in common with a crispy taco.
Rice flour dishes are everywhere, a staple of Vietnamese cuisine, yet they are never exactly the same. Rice flour can be steamed, fried, baked, and fortified to take on any number of textures and forms. Bánh xèo is enjoyed throughout Vietnam, but it can vary in appearance, cooking method, and fillings depending on the region. Generally speaking, southern-style bánh xèo is a sight to behold. Fried in large woks or pans, they are huge yet thin, with lacy, crispy edges overflowing the plate, and often meant to be broken apart and shared.
My only issue with this style is that the fillings are often unevenly distributed in the center and can be unwieldy to make at home. In the central region around Huế, it’s even called a different name—bánh khoái—and it is much smaller, slightly thicker, and pan-fried. I find deep-frying cumbersome, so I like to blend the two styles together to get the best of both worlds: small and compact like the central Vietnamese version, yet thin and crispy like the ones found in the south.
How you enjoy bánh xèo is just as important as how you make it. A big platter of greens and Vietnamese herbs and nước chấm are a must. What you do from there is your own personal adventure. I love to roll it into lettuce and herb wraps while my wife loves to roll hers in rice paper to form spring rolls. Our kids just eat it straight up or put everything in a bowl.