After scoffing these pancakes a while back my request for top Saigon Banh xeo munch-house tips met with a stone cold serving of silence… That is until a couple of weeks back when I received 2 emailed hints (much appreciated) plus a location suggestion from a real live Saigonite in Saigon. Great – you’re thinking – that’s 3 banh xeo spots to check out. Wrong. All three had independently suggested the same joint – 46A Dinh Cong Trang Street in District 1. This many potty pancake lovers can’t be wrong, surely?
This saliva springing sight fizzin' away in the frying pan above is the reason why Saigonese flood to this 50 seater outdoor, alleyway eatery. Beansprouts, shrimps (or pork… hell… you can have both if you like to experiment) chucked in a thin batter. Fry that baby up, flip one side over and serve. I had a bit of a banter with the owner who told me the restaurant opened 50 years ago. It was the first of its kind and remains the most popular in the whole of Saigon. The chef told me her favourite frying pan (she has six permanently on the go on separate charcoal burners) is also 50 years old. Hmmm… maybe she said 5 years old, but I am sure I heard 50. Whatever, it was a mightily knackered pan she wielded at me.
Across the street at 49A there’s a much larger, more modern copycat banh xeo restaurant. Tellingly, it was entirely devoid of customers for the length of my lunch, which was over an hour. What I love about many of these ‘famous’ places in Vietnam is despite heaps of loyal customers, oodles of cash coming in, they never lift a finger to improve the aesthetics of their restaurant. You need to devour this prime pancake as soon as it hits the plate. Don’t hang around for any late dinner arrivals and leave the civilities at home, “Oh no, please, you start.” “Oh no please you should try it first.” Stop it right there. Dive in. Banh xeo pancakes should be crispy on the outside and ever so slightly moist on the inside. Leaving it hanging around too long and you’ve got a soggy savoury crepe on your hands and you don’t want that, believe me.
This dish comes with a plate of nine different leaves and herbs. The most important to my mind is this leaf – cai be xanh (mustard leaf) – which can be used to wrap combo-morsels of banh xeo and herb up before a quick dip in some nuoc mam (fish sauce) and down the hatch.
46A Dinh Cong Trang serves up a stormin’ banh xeo and I would highly recommend trotting along if you’re in town. 17,000VD a pancake. Download banh_xeo_movie.mov [UPDATE: Or watch the same clip on YouTube below] They also serve excellent Bi cuon – a herb packed, pig skin rice paper wrap number. View the business card and directions. More snaps from the Banh xeo restaurant can be seen at this photostream. Plus the menu is here; page 1, page 2, page 3.