Banh xeo means “sizzling cake” in Vietnamese, but they are commonly called “pancakes” in English. The cake’s shell is prepared from a recipe of rice flour, turmeric, coconut milk, salt, egg, and green onion and then lightly fried in a wok. The edges come out crispy while the center remains soft.
While still in the pan, pork, shrimp, bean sprouts, combinations of mushrooms, and other vegetables are added and then the crust is folded over to form what looks like a huge yellow crepe or omelet.
After being served, chunks of the cake are torn off and wrapped in lettuce leaves, along with mint, basil, or other herbs, then dipped in a thin sauce known as nuoc cham (fish sauce mixed with water, garlic, sugar, chili, and lemon juice).
Though there are many restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City that offer this tasty dish, one that stands out is Banh Xeo Muoi Xiem on Nguyen Trai Street in District 1. The restaurant was founded by and is named after Muoi Xiem, a woman from Can Tho who has created over 30 varieties of the dish. So popular are her pancakes that in 2007 Ms. Muoi was invited to demonstrate her specialty at the Smithsonian Institution’s Folk Festival in Washington DC.
Eating at Banh Xeo Muoi Xiem is an educational experience. Diners can watch their pancakes being prepared through glass partitions between the dining room and the kitchen. Tony H. Tran, the general manager at the restaurant explains that “banh xeo is a very traditional Vietnamese food that is easy to eat. It’s a very popular food to eat especially when the weather is cold or rainy.”
Banh xeo is a healthy dish that is low in fat and cholesterol, so health-conscience diners will appreciate enjoying its tantalizing flavors. “Another good thing about banh xeo is that though it is fried in a wok, it is not a particularly oily dish,” Tran said.
Only the most natural ingredients are used in creating banh xeo. “The vegetables used in our products are grown on the restaurant’s owner’s private land, are cleaned through an ozone process, and arrive fresh at the restaurant every day,” Tran said.
Banh Xeo Muoi Xiem attracts an international clientele, with diners from Vietnam, Europe, Japan, and Korea often rubbing elbows in the active dining room while enjoying a filling meal. “I can’t stop smiling, it was so delicious. It has a unique flavor that makes it so good,” said Charles Owen, who currently lives in Korea but was visiting Ho Chi Minh City on vacation. “All the different flavors from the herbs come together and it’s great. And that’s coming from a guy from New York.”
For those craving a sweet treat after dinner, the restaurant also offers a widely varied dessert buffet consisting of “che,” the traditional Vietnamese sweet soup made with fruit, a variety of beans, and coconut milk.
Banh Xeo Muoi Xiem is located at 225-227 Nguyen Trai Street, Nguyen Cu Trinh Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, telephone: ( 84 8 ) 3920 8775 and at
190 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street in District 3, telephone ( 84 8 ) 3933 0207.