Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Asian Pancakes and Crepes :: Banh Xeo and Okonomiyaki

Banh Xeo is a southern specialty, more specifically a Saigon specialty. I asked a young girl in Nha Trang, a southern beach town, if there was a place we could get Banh Xeo and she straight laughed in my face. Banh Xeo is a savory crepe (a nod to the French) made with coconut milk and is eaten wrapped in lettuce and dipped in fish sauce. The most popular filling is shrimp, pork and bean sprouts. Banh Xeo may seem like a simple dish, but it really does have to be cooked perfectly to be truly appreciated -- it must be crispy on the edges and the batter should be light and fully cooked. I realized on this latest trip that my favorite Vietnamese dishes are the ones in which you either dip or douse the main course with nuoc mam, fish sauce mixed with vinegar, sugar, lime and chili peppers and Banh Xeo definitely fits the bill. I guess I'm a little addicted to that salty, tangy flavor.
There is a Vietnamese restaurant in my neighborhood in Tokyo that serves Banh Xeo and they market it as the Vietnamese Okonomiyaki. I found this to be pretty funny, but it does kind of fit the description. Okonomiyaki means "the things you like, grilled" -- ok, rough translation but that sort of gets the point across. It's a grilled pancake and the batter is mixed with all sorts of crazy things - squid, octopus, shrimp, cheese, pork, kimchi -- the list goes on. It is then topped with seaweed powder and mayo. Mmm...sounds good right?! I had my first Okonomiyaki last weekend in Kobe and it was DERICIOUS. I think the key to liking Okonomiyaki is to actually order the things you like. We opted or corn, cheese, spring onion and bacon. While we may have gotten a good laugh from the old lady that ran the joint, we absolutely loved our creation, so much so that we went back the next day and had it for lunch.

So there you have it folks - pancakes and crepes, Asian style.

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