Truon Son Street near the airport is so jam packed with narrow storefronts we can forgive someone for missing something. No matter how many times I pass on by going to work, something new catches my eye. My Vietnamese food guru, Anthony, suggested we head to a joint at 14 Truong Son where I could try some local cuisine. An English restaurant name may seem an anathema for a place serving Vietnamese but as with anything names are just a label. Sammy serves up some legit local cuisine.
Anthony recommended we try a unique dish called bánh xèo, or sizzle cake, which is a very thin, crispy pancake made of rice flour and water. Turmeric tints the entire batter, and the griddle turned ours into an oversize yellow envelope stuffed with kim châm (enoke mushrooms), tiny bits of pork, shrimp, and squid. Bánh xèo has the crunch of a waffle cone but the thickness of a potato chip.
I watched as Anthony flicked his chopsticks over the bánh xèo and within seconds had a nice tight lettuce roll stuffed with pieces of seafood and pancake along with herbs such as mint and purplish tía tô (Vietnamese perilla). Two minutes later I was still trying to tear off a piece of pancake with Anthony laughing a little at my clumsiness. He had to finally stabilize the pancake with his own chopsticks as I used mine like a knife to finally exorcise a chunk. Moments like this are exactly why silverware was invented in the west to help us clumsy Americans manage to lift a meal from plate to mouth.
With finally enough bánh xèo and its contents harvested, I was ready to commence the seemingly simple process of rolling it all up inside a piece of lettuce or mustard leaf. How hard is rolling up a pancake joint anyhow? My technique left a little to be desired for sure I would soon find out, but I proudly held my lopsided fattie eager for its dip into the fish sauce. Only problem is everything went right in for a swim and all I was left holding was an empty piece of lettuce. Geez this is a lot of work just to eat.
I guess Anthony felt sorry for me because he handed me an expertly rolled piece of lettuce and finally I had a proper bánh xèo resting between my thumb and forefinger. I drew it up to my mouth and I can report it’s delicious. The whole thing is a combination of sweet, bitter, salty, crunchy, and meaty at the same time. I inhaled three of these. I am now addicted and want more.