Pancakes are popular around the world, including in Vietnam, where the local version is known as banh xeo.
Banh xeo shares a number of common features with Japan’s okonomiyaki, Korea’s jijimi, India’s masala dosa and the crepes that are widely eaten for breakfast in America and Europe.
Unlike Western-style pancakes which focus on sumptuous topping, such as ham, bacon, cheese and honey, Asian pancakes are a harmonious combination of vegetables, meat and seafood.
Although fried, the crispy banh xeo are considered a healthy treat.
The crunchy crispy crepes are usually filled with pork, prawns, bean sprouts and chopped spring onions. They are eaten with lettuce and a sweet vinegary chili fish sauce.
To make the batter, flour is mixed with water, coconut milk, finely-sliced spring onions and turmeric.
About one third of a cup of batter is poured into a heated oiled frying pan. The yellow batter is then spread to create a thin, round pancake.
Toppings, including stir-fried pork, prawns and a handful of bean sprouts, are placed on the pancake while it’s still cooking. After a few minutes, the cake is folded in half to make a semi-circle, then served with lettuce and fish sauce.
Banh xeo is considered a flexible dish as the toppings can be varied according to personal preference and what’s in season.
Besides the most common toppings of pork, prawn, bean sprouts and boiled green beans, beef, seafood and mushrooms can also be added to banh xeo.
The pancakes are prepared differently throughout the country. Central Vietnamese are fond of a thicker and smaller banh xeo, with a diameter of 10 to 15 centimeters.
Southerners, however, prefer their banh xeo to be paper-thin, crispy, bigger in size and less oily. The secret to extra-thin cake is a deep frying pan and a quick wrist to coat the frying pan with the batter before it starts to cook.
Eating the cake is a messy but enjoyable process. The diner wraps a piece of the freshly cooked banh xeo in lettuce and dips it in the sweet chili fish sauce. The combination of the crispy texture of the banh xeo, the rich taste of the toppings, complemented by fresh vegetables and the sweet and sour fish sauce make a memorable dining experience for people of all ages and nationalities.
The excitement of banh xeo lies in the way the pancake is prepared - the sizzling sound when the batter is poured into the hot pan, the smell of the batter as it cooks and the mixture of the yellow batter, the green spring onions and the red shrimp.
The pancakes are eaten by hand, the better to enjoy the crispy, fresh taste.
Altogether, the experience of eating banh xeo is said to satisfy all five of the senses.