A dish of bánh khọt (savory fried pancakes with shrimps) – a famous snack in the southern coastal resort town of Vung Tau – sold at Khanh Restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City / PHOTO: TAN NHAN
Khanh Restaurant is located in District 10’s Bac Hai quarters, which is famous for hosting numerous cafés.
Surrounded by cafés blaring loud music, the restaurant would be difficult to spot, were it not for the reputation of its bánh khọt.
The small fried rice pancakes that are sold at the restaurant are mostly similar to those found in the coastal resort town of Vung Tau, where bánh khọt is said to be one of the best street snacks and a must-try for tourists.
There is no mystery to how Khanh Restaurant has managed to serve Vung Tau quality pancakes. Its chef used to work at the Vung Tau’s most famous stall, which is located on 14 Nguyen Truong To Street, better known as the Goc Vu Sua (star apple tree root) stall.
Indeed, while more fancy restaurants in HCMC like Banh khot Co Ba Vung Tau offer more topping options like squid, scallops and fish paste, the pancakes served at Khanh have just one original topping - shrimps.
Each pancake has a topping of tôm cháy – dried shrimps that are minced and fried, and shredded spring onions fried in cooking oil.
In a standard set, there are eight pancakes, a basket of fresh herbs like mustard greens, lettuce and leaves of perilla frutescens (commonly known as beefsteak plant), a bowl of fermented strips of raw papaya, and a bowl of fish sauce mixed with lime or vinegar and sugar.
When placed in layers of herbs, bánh khọt has its flavor enhanced and multiplied.
While I feel Khanh serves one of the best bánh khọt plates in town, there are enough eateries in Saigon for people to find one that is more to their liking.
However, before you set out to check out bánh khọt restaurants, do not forget that the savory pancake actually has two versions here.
Another less famous version originates in the Mekong Delta. It is thicker and has a yellow color instead of white. Additional ingredients include mung beans, and coconut milk, and there is no tôm cháy.
The two versions are so different not only in their looks but also their cooking styles.
While the yellow one is cooked in a clay pan of eight molds, the Vung Tau pancake is cooked in a much bigger pan that is made from cast iron and has as many as 50 molds.
Despite the differences and being less famous, the Mekong Delta version of bánh khọt is definitely worth a try as well.
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By Tan Nhan, Thanh Nien News (The story can be found in the September 20th issue of our print edition, Vietweek)