Bánh xèo is a beloved Vietnamese dish that has captured the hearts of food lovers all around the world. The name bánh xèo translates to “sizzling pancake,” which is a fitting description of this crispy, savoury treat.
Originating in central Vietnam, bánh xèo is a popular street food that is often enjoyed as a snack or light meal. The crispy yellow pancake coupled with crunchy bean sprouts and either soft shrimp or pork offers a kaleidescope of textures.
Turmeric adds a splash of yellow to the outer pancake, which is folded in half and served with a side of fresh lettuce and herbs, which are used to wrap the bánh xèo and create a refreshing contrast to the crunchy pancake.
Despite its widespread popularity, the origins of bánh xèo remain contested.
One theory suggests that bánh xèo originated in central Vietnam, specifically in the imperial city of Hue. This theory is supported by the fact that Hue is known for its unique cuisine, which often includes rice flour-based dishes like the bánh xèo’s bigger cousin, the bánh khoái. Additionally, Hue was once the imperial capital of Vietnam and was home to a royal court that placed great emphasis on the culinary arts.
Another theory posits that bánh xèo may have been influenced by the Cham culture. The Cham people were a maritime civilization that once inhabited central and southern Vietnam, and their cuisine featured many dishes made from rice flour and seafood. bánh xèo is similar to some of the Cham dishes, leading some to believe that the dish was influenced by Cham cuisine.
Finally, some theorise that bánh xèo was brought to Vietnam by South Indian traders. This theory is supported by the fact that bánh xèo is similar to a popular South Indian dish called dosa, which is also a savory crepe made from rice flour and lentils. Some historians believe that Indian traders introduced dosa to Vietnam during the Champa period, and that bánh xèo evolved from this dish.
Today, bánh xèo is a staple dish in Vietnamese cuisine, and it can be found in restaurants and street vendors all over the country.
Whether enjoyed as a snack or a full meal, bánh xèo is a must-try dish for anyone visiting Vietnam. Its crispy texture, fragrant aroma, and flavourful filling make it a true delight for the senses, and a testament to the rich culinary heritage of Vietnam.
Written by: Greg Roxburgh.