Bánh xèo at its sizzling best

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At a small restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City, bánh xèo (sizzling cake) is still cooked the original way: deep-fried with pork fat and on ovens using firewood  / PHOTOS: GIANG VU

Bánh xèo a deep-fried pancake stuffed with pork, shrimps, hulled mung beans and bean sprouts is a popular dish in Ho Chi Minh City that people cannot resist.

Over the years, all kinds of eateries, from the humble street-side stall to fancy, high-end restaurants, have "specialized" in bánh xèo which can be translated as "sizzling cake."

Furthermore, several bánh xèo trademarks have emerged, like Muoi Xiem and An la ghien.

Amidst this flurry, there is one place that has been open for decades, attracting clients for remaining faithful to the "original" recipe.

Indeed, the outdoor restaurant in a small alley on Dinh Cong Trang Street is the eatery of choice for many residents when they want to introduce bánh xèo to their foreign friends.

This has turned the restaurant to a venue frequented by local residents as well as foreigners.

Speaking for myself, I choose it because I feel, like many others, that the dish is made and served in an original way. There are several reasons for this.

First, this restaurant still fries bánh xèo in pork fat, while most other eateries have switched to cooking oil on health concerns.

One of the cooks there told me that they do not use oil because the cake will smell of oil after it cools.  Although they use a big spoon of fat to fry the cake, all the fat will be taken out when the cake is cooked, he said.

Another original aspect to the way bánh xèo is cooked here is the use of firewood. The restaurant cooks claim, and I feel they are justified in doing so, that gas ovens can cook the cake quickly, but it does not taste and smell as good as the one cooked using firewood.

The ambience at this restaurant is another thing that harks back to the "good old days." Feeling both the heat of the stove and the coolness of the breeze, seeing the cooks make the dish, and hearing it sizzle these are all parts of the rural flavor that cannot be experienced in most other eateries that serve bánh xèo.

The appetite stimulating environment gets the customer ready to attack the yellow, crispy pancake with its basket of fresh leafy vegetables as soon as it is served. Wrapping a piece of the cake in various leaves, dipping it into the nưá»›c mắm (fish sauce) mixed with vinegar or lemon and sugar, gives me a gastronomic high, and I have seen this happen to others as well.


Address: 46a Dinh Cong TrangStreet, Tan Dinh Ward, District 1
Price: VND60,000-100,000
Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m.

When I took my Belgian friend to this restaurant recently, the dish proved to be a conversation stopper. Apart from various exclamations of pleasure, he remained intent on swallowing mouthful after mouthful of the delicious morsels. It was only when the cake was almost gone that he could take a break and start talking to me.

Finally, if you happen to visit the Dinh Cong Trang restaurant, do not forget to look around.

Chances are that you will be able to see groups of women chit-chatting continuously as their hands ceaselessly to wrap and dip the cake.

It is a scene that by itself is worth a visit. 

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