The narrow alleyway next to my apartment tower is a portal to another world so different from my westernized highrise compound. Walking a few steps beyond this sanitized confine transports me to another world so far removed from mine culturally that I can’t help but gawk and stare at times. The best part of this journey into “Asia” is the food choices along the way, and one particular corner of the alley at 114/4/14 Vo Duy Ninh is a revolving selection of street foods depending on the day.
This family run stand operating out of their home brings soup to the sidewalk most days of the week, but every once in a while luck graces us with a treat called bánh khọt originally hailing from the nearby beachside city of Vung Tau. So let’s compare two breakfast “pancakes” served on opposite sides of the Pacific since bánh khọt may very well be Vietnam’s version of an American silver dollar pancake. But before you get to thinking these are closely related cousins, let me just interject here about all they share in common is breakfast time and a small round size.
American pancakes are sweet disks of wheat based flour usually eaten with butter and maple syrup. Some even come stuffed with blueberries and other fruits. A bánh khọt is a savory creation of turmeric tinted rice batter cooked in a griddle much like a cupcake pan with round indentations holding the liquid as it solidifies into highly edible form. The outsides crisp up golden brown from liberal doses of artery clogging oil poured into the indentions as the batter thickens while the insides remain soft and steamy.
Whereas an American pancake might contain rich chocolate chips, a savory shrimp cooks into our Vietnamese version. The final product is then tucked into a lettuce leaf along with herbs followed by a dip into the ever present fish sauce based nuoc cham. The taste is savory, sweet, spice and salt all in one perfect bite of soft and crunchy food fung shei. About 75 cents buys ten of these perfect little gut bombs.
Bánh khọt aren’t an everyday treat at this neighborhood street food stand, and no rhyme or reason predicts when they will spawn in our alleyway food court. But in any case, they are a perfect little greasy addition to the neighborhood’s diverse offerings. You just have to be in the right place at the right time and get them while they’re hot. That’s ok though. Foods seem to taste better when they remain more on the elusive side.