One Whirlwind Day in Ho Chi Minh City – Part 4

March 3, 2011

When Ben and I first decided we would visit Vietnam, naturally my mind instantly wandered to all the fabulous eats we would no doubt experience. Is there anything more exciting?

I was familiar with pho – at home we would indulge in weekly pilgrimages to Springvale or Richmond for a steaming bowl of comforting deliciousness. I had also eaten my fair share of spring rolls along the way. And while visiting France in 2009, I came across a brilliant dish that I now hold dear to my heart – Bun Bo Xao. Fresh vegetables, charred beef strips, thin, slippery rice noodles, all topped with fresh herbs and crushed peanuts, and doused with nuoc cham – it is seriously one of the best bowls of colourful, cohesive goodness I have ever come across. Plus it is fun to say, “Bun Bo Xao”. So I knew a little about the cuisine, however I was very aware that there was an abundance of traditional Vietnamese dishes I was yet discover and try.

Somewhere along the road as I was researching what food I simply had to have whilst in Vietnam, I came across a recommendation for a little side-street restaurant that is purported to make the best Banh Xeo in the city. Interesting….They are also said to serve delicious beef in betel leaves. “Ok, get me there now”…

I did a little research on Banh Xeo, to find out what exactly this exotic dish was. Mr Google informed me that Banh Xeo is a very popular and traditional dish, which is common in Central Vietnam but also popular in the South. A rice-flour pancake filled with pork and prawns and other goodies – yes please!! I love pancakes each and every way.

We decided to have our first Banh Xeo experience at lunch-time during our whirlwind day, and so after visiting the Museum of Ho Chi Minh City and the Reuinification Palace, we caught a cab to Banh Xeo at 46A Dinh Cong Trang, District 3.

As soon as we saw the restaurant, pale green shutters and all, we knew it would be a gem. Long communal tables jutted out onto the street with locals lined up along the pews, enjoying a casual lunch. Ladies were cooking the banh xeo in the open air, which allowed the fragrant sizzle to waft towards the hungry patrons. I blame our enthusiastic order on this wafty aroma. We (naturally) selected the banh xeo, along with bo la lot and a serve of fried pork spring rolls. I also got a coconut for it’s juicy goodness.

The fried pork spring rolls were thick and super crisp, with a very meaty flavour – not many other ingredients in there besides the pork! Wrapping the rolls in lettuce with mint, then dipping in nuoc cham (a fish saucy dipping sauce) is a must. I can’t eat spring rolls any other way! They were quite good, but I didn’t love them. Though I was certainly pleased to have tried some authentic spring rolls – too often in Australia I have suffered through miserable versions.

As we had been told that the bo la lot ( grilled beef in betel leaves) was a must-try at this place, we were super excited when this fragrant little plate came to our table. The ground beef was so succulent, and the betel leaf was just gorgeous – very moist and only slightly peppery. These little cigars melted in your mouth. My goodness, they were one of the best things I have ever eaten.

Some very friendly local University students were sitting adjacent to us. We introduced ourselves, however I sadly cannot recall their names – where was my journal when I needed it!? They were students of public relations and English, and were keen to practise their language skills (which were very good, by the way!). They were fascinated with us, and how we came to find this little place in their corner of the city. The guy informed me that he grew up just down the street, and has been coming here since he was a young child. Here they were, the three of them, casually sharing a Banh Xeo as an afternoon snack – how lovely. One of the girls showed us how to wrap the bo la lot in the rice paper that came with the dish.

First rice paper, then the lettuce, herbs and vegetables, then the noodles, and lastly the beef.

Roll it up tightly and voila!

I always enjoy making random new acquaintances, especially ones that are handy with food tips 😉 We had a lovely time, eating and chatting, comparing lives. It was surprising (or not…) to find that they’re just like we were as uni students.

And now for the main event, the Banh Xeo. It was lovely. A beautifully crisp and super light pancake, filled with with bright, bursting prawns, corn kernals and bean shoots. The soft yellow tinge to the pancake (thanks to the tumeric) was particularly pleasing, aesthetically. Our Banh Xeo wasn’t brimming with pork, but that was absolutely fine – the prawns and bean shoots added enough texture and flavour, and so the pork wasn’t missed. A testament to how yummy it was? I like to think so.

Tearing off a piece, adding a lining of mint and wrapping it in a lettuce leaf added a lovely freshness to the mouthful. A cheeky dip in some nuoc cham livened it up even more. Although not bursting with complex flavours, this dish was delicious and utterly moreish.

I would definitely recommend visiting this no-fuss little spot if you ever have the chance. We had a delightful meal here, sitting outside and chatting with some friendly young locals, whilst tasting a number of absolutely delicious Vietnamese specialties. What better way to enjoy lunch on a whirlwind day in Ho Chi Minh City?

Heidi xo

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  • Merowyn March 3, 2011 at 11:33 am

    Moreish!!! You used it 🙂 🙂 🙂

    This all looks amazing – I don't know what else to say, except I am insanely jealous.

    My dad's going to the Philippines next week, I wish I was going there and Singapore I'm in desperate need of a home visit.

  • Kath (My Funny Little Life) March 3, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    Wow – it's awesome how the food is prepared on several hotplates directly before your eyes! *This* is freshness! 😀

  • Michelle Chin March 3, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    My mom loves banh xeo. She was first introduced to Banh Xeo not in Ho Chi Minh or some exotic spot but in Melbourne's Vietnamtown. Haha. 😀

  • Hannah March 3, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    It all looks so fresh and vibrant! I'm in awe 🙂

  • The InTolerant Chef March 3, 2011 at 9:19 pm

    Some of my favourite foods you've posted about so far! I need to google and try and find these recipes. How nice to find some kindred spirits on your trip too.

  • Julia @ Boredom Abounds March 4, 2011 at 9:57 am

    Mmm, those pork rolls look yummy!

  • Heidi March 4, 2011 at 11:01 am

    Merowyn – yes, I used it 🙂 thanks for your help! I hope you get to have a home visit soon!

    Kath – exactly – super fresh, amazing 🙂

    Michelle – your mum has good taste! Good to know Melbourne serves up the goods too 🙂

    Hannah – you would have loved it!

    InTolerant Chef – yes I can't wait to recreate the food at home too. The Banh Xeo should be fairly easy (I hope!)

    Julia – they were loving the camera 😛

    Heidi xo

  • Anna March 5, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    How exciting! Super jealous, am dying to visit Ho Chi Minh City, the food looks amazing. Isn't it impressive the way they can create with minimal utensils and appliances. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  • Angela (the diet book junkie) March 6, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    have i ever told you how jealous i am of your travels? 🙂

    i know what you mean, Vietnamese food in Sydney can be hit and miss. we had the best at Red Lantern (like we can afford that every day.) i've yet to try Banh Xeo, i'll have to keep that in my back pocket!

  • Heidi March 8, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    Anna – you would love this city!! & yes I know – they're so crafty 😉

    Angela – The best Vietnamese food in Melbourne is at the cheaper places in Springvale or Richmond, as opposed to fancier restaurants. It's local and authentic. When we were in Sydney we went to Red Lantern and had delicious black sesame ice-cream!

    Heidi xo

  • Lisa March 16, 2011 at 11:02 am

    I'm just back from Vietnam and am reliving all the foody deliciousness from your blog. Normally when I travel there is some kind of food from home that I miss, but the food in Vietnam and Cambodia was so spectacular it didn't even occur to me to think of food from home.

    I had never heard of Banh Xeo before I got to Vietnam but boy are they a great find.

    I loved the spring rolls in Vietnam, did you have the ones wrapped in rice noodles instead of wonton wrappers? They looked more crinkly than the normal smooth finish of a spring roll and are definitely my favourite now.

  • Heidi March 17, 2011 at 7:45 am

    Lisa – Oh you're back! I would love to go to Cambodia one day. & yes I did try the "fresh" spring rolls, like rice paper rolls back here. They do taste a lot fresher, and with the beautiful fresh herbs, they're just beautiful!

    Heidi xo

  • Phuoc'n Delicious March 30, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    DAMN! I also got this place recommended to me by a local but didn't get around to going there. Kicking myself because I absolutely LOVE bo la lot!!