I have enough cooking experience that most recipes work well enough on the first try. Partly, it’s because I choose good recipes to start with, but I also try to adjust while cooking – whenever the directions or amount of an ingredient seem to be “off” in some way. However, some recipes require a little more practice and I’m definitely not immune to making mistakes while cooking!
When I talked to Minh’s mother Anh – I promised her I would try making Banh Xeo (Saigon Sizzling Crepes) again. When I tried it previously, I enjoyed the results. But subsequently ordering it at a restaurant, I realized that I hadn’t made the crepes as thin and crispy as they are intended to be, more like the dosas of South India. Anh showed me this flour mix that she purchases to make Banh Xeo. The bottom is a rice flour mixture and the top is a separate packet of turmeric. Anh adds twice as much water as the instructions on this packet call for, and then lets the flour mixture soak overnight. She then adds the turmeric, coconut milk and beer (this is what she says makes it crispy!) before cooking the crepes. So that’s what I did this time, though I could tell it was going to make a huge amount of batter, so I only mixed up 1/4 of the packet and still didn’t use it all.
I improvised a really good filling using the remainder of my grilled pork, shrimp, bean sprouts and mushrooms, seasoned with garlic, ginger, scallion and of course the ubiquitous fish sauce. But the cooking of the crepe has to be the trickiest part of this recipe. Even though the batter is incredibly thin, you need to cook each crepe for 8-10 minutes in the pan in order to get the browned crispy texture that is desired. Once I realized how long it was taking each crepe, I poured some batter into the pan, then went downstairs to get my laundry, folded and put it away before returning to the kitchen. It still wasn’t finished! Also, the entire packet makes such a huge amount of batter it could make at least 30 or 40 crepes when they’re poured thinly like this. I would have to have a Banh Xeo party to eat all those, but it takes so long for each individual crepe to cook that some guests might not be eating until midnight :)
Anh said that she puts part of the filling in half of the pan, then spreads the crepe batter around the entire pan. When the crepe is finished cooking, she folds the non-filled portion over the filled side. Done this way, the filling is actually cooked into the crepe. I tried this, but the half containing the filling was close to burning before the crepe itself would get crispy. So I went back to the other method of cooking the crepe and then placing the filling onto it just before folding and sliding out of the pan. Maybe I should have used more oil, that might have also helped to create darker and more even browning of the crepe.
This second attempt at Banh Xeo was tasty, and perhaps a bit closer to the real thing, but still not even close to what I had in the restaurant. It’s a very involved process, so like pho, I’ll probably just leave this one to the professionals! Or if I feel like making the filling, I could always wrap it in a more typical French crepe, which I can make more easily at home. It won’t be authentic, but will still be delicious.
I also wanted to re-try the Coconut Creme Caramel dessert. The previous time I made this dessert, I didn’t caramelize the sugar syrup enough. It tasted good, but wasn’t nearly as pretty. I just made half a batch this time, 4 individual ramekins. It’s very similar to flan, so will make a good transitional dessert to South America this week :)
Well, that’s it for Vietnamese, off to Argentina! I’ll leave you with this final Vietnamese proverb, “In food, as in death, we feel the essential oneness of humanity.”