This dish is a souvenir from my trip to Phu Quoc, Vietnam, a couple of years ago. I towed it more excitedly than any tourist with a stash of tailor made suits or a conical ‘non la’ hat.
The food in Vietnam is really special. I’ve eaten Vietnamese in Melbourne literally hundreds of times – lazy family lunches at our Victoria Street regular, wrestling over the last crunchy cigar-like spring roll to wrap in cups of crisp lettuce with strands of coriander and mint, mid-week pow-wow lunches gossiping over steaming broth and slurping slippery noodles, and boozy BYO birthdays staring inebriated eyes into plates of translucent dumplings.
But Vietnamese food, in Vietnam, is very different. Supermarkets are hard to find, as produce is purchased fresh from the markets each morning, and this is evident with every delectable mouthful. Colours are vibrant, flavour contrasts are suspended like balance-scales, and textures tap-dance over your taste-buds. The exciting regional diversity reflects the varying climate and geography. I was often distracted by the street-side buffet of food stalls, nibbling my way through the day on dishes I’d previously never tried.
Phu Quoc is an hour micro-sized plane trip from Ho Chi Mihn. The little island is draped in long dirt roads and mountainous rugged forests, and speckled with fishing villages. It is framed by powdery sand and floats on glassy water. The steps from the rear of our hotel rolled right on to the beach and the high-tide lapped at the building. At the top of the steps was the restaurant where we ate breakfast staring into the expansive ocean. The long breakfast buffet was illuminated by tropical fruits, and adorned with jugs of fresh juice, fluffy eggs, crunchy bacon and silky noodles.
At the end of the table a friendly fellow in a chef’s hat artfully whipped up banh xeo. I had those pancakes every damn day we stayed on that island. Five consecutive days. By the end of the trip, I was bantering with the pancake man over the fry pan, watching on in anticipation while he worked his magic.
The genius in this dish is drizzling the sweet/salty/tart elixir over the top. It seeps easily through the crisp lacy pancake and imbues the mix of crunchy bean shoots, soft salty prawn and pork, and peppery mint. They are easy to make, egg and dairy free, and can be eaten at any time of the day. You could eat them wrapped in lettuce, omit the pork for a lighter option, or fill them with something else altogether (any suggestions?) I like them for a late weekend breakfast, getting nostalgic with a straw in my juice.
I’ve taken inspiration from Luke Ngyuen’s recipe to recreate this recipe (my go-to chef for Vietnamese cooking). His show ‘Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam’ is a dream to watch.
This recipe makes about 3 large pancakes.
You will Need
For the pancake
- 1 ¼ cups of rice flour
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1 cup water
- ¼ cup chopped spring onion
- 1 tbsp oil (vegetable or coconut oil)
For the filling
- 1 pork chop (or pork belly), chopped into small pieces
- 2 tsp fish sauce
- 2 tsp soy sauce
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 10 – 15 prawns, cooked and peeled
- 1 cups bean sprouts
- 2 tbsp oil (vegetable or coconut oil)
For the sauce
- Juice of 4 limes
- ¼ cup water
- 4 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tsp caster sugar
- 1 chilli, finely sliced
- ½ clove garlic finely sliced
- ½ grated carrot
- Place the pork in a bowl and coat in the soy sauce and fish sauce. Set aside to marinate for at least half an hour.
- Combine flour, turmeric, coconut milk and water in a bowl and combine until smooth. Add the spring onions and leave to rest while preparing the filling and the sauce.
- Fry 2 tbsp garlic until translucent. Add the pork and cook on high heat until the meat is golden and the rind has crisped up and/ or melted away.
- Coat a clean fry pan with 1 tbsp of oil. With a ladle, carefully pour the pancake batter over the base of your pan thinly and evenly. Once the edges begin to crisp up, sprinkle a handful of bean shoots, a little pork and about 6 prawns (adjust this depending on how large your pancake is and how full you’d like your pancake) on one side of the pancake.
- Cook the pancake for a further 1-2 minutes. Be patient – it will fall apart if not cooked through properly. Seal any holes with extra batter. Peek under the edge of your pancake. It will be ready when brown and crisp.
- Fold over the pancake, and slide it on to a plate.
- For the sauce, combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix until the sugar is dissolved.
- Serve with fresh mint and coriander, lettuce, and pour over, or dip into the sauce.