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Popular as both a street snack and an entrée in Vietnam, banh xeo are thin, crisp crêpes made with rice flour and stuffed with savoury ingredients. It's the sound of the batter hitting the hot oil that gives this dish (pronounced "bun sayo") its name: literally "sizzling cake". Though it's difficult to pinpoint its origins, one theory suggests it developed from the crêpe, introduced to Vietnam during the French colonisation in the 19th century.
The ingredients used in the batter, as well as the fillings, vary throughout Vietnam; the recipe we've used here is inspired by the banh xeo found in Ho Chi Minh City and the south. The batter calls for rice flour, coconut milk and turmeric; it's the turmeric which gives the distinctive hue. Traditionally, freshly extracted coconut milk would be used, and rice would be soaked and ground by hand to make the flour, but we've opted to keep things simple by using prepared ingredients here.
The thin, runny batter is ladled into a large flat crêpe pan or shallow wok greased with pork fat or vegetable oil and swirled quickly across the pan until it's very thin, crisp and golden, then the various fillings are added.
Chefs Mark Jensen and Pauline Nguyen from Sydney's Red Lantern believe banh xeo "typifies the Vietnamese obsession with fresh herbs, produce and texture" and there's no doubt freshness is key here. Banh xeo is best eaten as soon as it slides out of the pan, preferably broken into bite-sized bundles and eaten folded between butter lettuce with mustard greens, fresh leaves of coriander and Vietnamese mint. Keep things traditional by dipping it in nuoc cham - freshly prepared, of course.
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