Makansutra: Nothing says Vietnam more than sizzling pancake Banh Xeo
Enjoy authentic Banh Xeo right in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City
Sushi, tom yum, rendang, pizza, dim sum, fish and chips.
Each of these is an icon and culinary ambassador of the country it comes from.
We associate sashimi with Japan, tandoori chicken with India and chilli crabs with Singapore, and in so many ways they play a role in cementing a nation's gastronomic reputation.
This is the art of gastro-travel - eat their story and digest their culture.
Many countries in South-east Asia have food with influences from "motherland" nations like India and China or in the Middle East.
Then there is pho from Vietnam, a beef noodle soup that has many variants from Guangzhou and Chaozhou and even Thailand.
They influence each other because of the ancient trading routes and migratory patterns.
But the truly iconic item I have come across in Vietnam is Banh Xeo, a thin rice flour and egg batter topped with meat and shrimps and crunched up with bean sprouts and eaten wrapped with lettuce or local salad leaves.
I have not come across anything similar in the regions I have travelled to in my makan pursuits. Banh Xeo, to me, says "Vietnam".
Banh Xeo Bun Thit Nuong in Ho Chi Minh City was invited to participate at our World Street Food Congress in 2017 in the Philippines and it made a splash for so many reasons.
Firstly, it is the way the Banh Xeo is made - they stir fry some pork slices with shrimps, and as they sizzled, the yellowish batter is spread over the wok from the edge and downwards just so the pancake edges will come out thin and crispy.
A mound of bean sprouts is added towards the end so they remain fresh and crunchy.
Then there's the speed.
To handle the throngs who line up patiently for it, they handle at least three woks at a time, continuously.
Each pancake has to be rendered consistently or it will burn very quickly, so maximum attention to fire control is critical.
I recently revisited this stall and was glad to see a long queue.
Everything was as I remembered, down to the beaten up and seasoned woks with knocks all over the base. I think this is deliberate so the batter does not stick easily to the wok.
It feels healthy the way it's served (though many would disagree because it is fried), with the big basket of greens and leaves with a bowl of their own fish sauce with pickled greens. It is very comforting and feels more like a salad.
They also offer grilled pork chunks and fried spring rolls on the side and it wonderfully adds to the sin.
The Banh Xeo comes with thin and translucent edges and that is a skill all on its own.
I have had many versions in Singapore and even in California (where there is a huge Vietnamese community) and believe me, nothing comes close to this.
So take the route less travelled and ask the locals for the real deal.
Banh Xeo Bun Thit Nuong
82/12, Nguyen Cong Hoan, Phuong 7, Quan Phu Nhuan
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Tel: 028-3841865, Mobile: 091-9248015
11.30am to 7pm daily