Bánh Xèo Street Crepes – 124 of 365

Bánh Xèo

On my walks through the Binh Thanh district, I pass a tiny bánh xèo stand at 33 Phan Van Han Street that for months has had my interest piqued with its six dollhouse size plastic stools and fresh looking food.  So many times I’ve come close to ordering one of those yellow tinted pancakes, yet my Western inhibitions always proved strong enough to suppress any sense of adventure.  As I finally threw caution to the wind and sat down on a tiny squat stool to dig deep into this fine street food offering, I got to thinking about my recent trip back to America and the lack of this “street food.”

Regulations and consumer preferences virtually rule out seeing anything across the Pacific like the bounty we enjoy in Vietnam.  An American reporter named John Stossel even produced a story about trying to open a lemonade stand in New York City with all the incumbent beauracracy and assinine regulations such as needing a fire extinguisher for an outdoor drink stand with no flames. In fact, he discovered the entire permitting process will take over two months just to legally sell this flavored sugar water on a Manhattan sidewalk.

His investigation into the regulatory morass was inspired by two young Georgia girls who had their lemonade stand shut down by the police.  Police Chief Kelly Morningstar explained, “We were not aware of how the lemonade was made, who made the lemonade and of what the lemonade was made with.”  Well, don’t the Chief’s fears just about describe any meal in Vietnam?  I looked at the lack of sanitation or standards at this bánh xèo stand and thought Chief Morningstar would have a field day with this one.

Authentic Street Food

Gritty conditions aside, the bánh xèo was good and at less than 50 cents the perfect price.   The old woman manning this tiny joint pours turmeric tinted rice batter onto a hot griddle where it sizzles into a light, flaky pancake.   A couple pieces of shrimp and a handful of bean sprouts are stuffed inside this folded crepe like creation.  Tear off a piece with its golden crisped skin, roll it up in lettuce and herbs presumably rinsed in tap water, dip it into the nuoc cham sauce and it’s a great meal on the cheap.

In fact the name literally means “sizzle cake,” and we tried one of these at the beginning of this food journey.   However, that one was in a restaurant’s more controlled environment rather than the wild, wild west of Saigon’s sizzling hot streets.

I love the irony.  In Vietnam anyone can set up a food stand on the sidewalk and sell shrimp filled crepes to their heart’s content.  Hell, throw in some beer.  No liquor license is needed.  Yet in the land of the free back home, setting up something as simple as a lemonade stand is a fatiguing undertaking meant only for the truly brave. There has to be a happy medium somewhere in between both extremes so more people can try this good, safe food….maybe like Singapore and its safe street food.  And I am happy to report that sidewalk bánh xèo did not rebel against my stomach at all though it was prepared in an American food inspector’s nightmare.

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

One Comment on “Bánh Xèo Street Crepes – 124 of 365”

  1. your fan
    April 18, 2012 at 2:01 am #

    since you are in binh thanh , you should visit chao’ vit thanh da Mister.
    all saigonese know chao vit thanh da.

    also, try be^ thui before you leave vietnam.
    you can read about it here http://www.theravenouscouple.com/2010/01/be-thui-recipe-vietnamese-roast-veal.html.

    i have not seen you talk about all kind of salads and sweet treats in saigon.

    give you this link to read when you have some free time


    your fan

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