Eating Banh Khot in Vietnam

If you love crispy savory pancakes, you’re going to love Vietnamese banh khot! Among the list of endless delicious Vietnamese snacks and light meals, is a little gem called banh khot (bánh khọt). They could be translated in a number of different ways, from crispy savory pancakes, to coconut rice cakes, to kettle cakes… but maybe a little less confusing description is just delicious bite sized treats. 

 

What is banh khot?

It’s a famous Vietnamese dish of miniature pancakes served with herbs and vegetables and spicy sweet fish sauce for dipping. The batter is made of a combination of mostly rice flour, and even leftover grains of rice, with a hint of turmeric to give them a beautiful yellow tinge, and mixed together with coconut milk to make it extra creamy and rich. Finally, the topping is usually shrimp and diced up green onions, and in this case, extra coconut milk.

The little mini pancakes are cooked in the same type of griddle as Thai khanom krok, but instead of being a sweet dessert like the Thai version, they are savory and eaten with one of the great joys of Vietnamese cuisine – fresh herbs and leafy green vegetables.

While the Vietnamese banh xeo is a mega sized crepe (at least that’s the case in southern Vietnam), banh khot are much smaller in size, usually thicker and more hearty with batter. And just like banh xeo, it seems to be a Vietnamese dish that many locals are passionate about and absolutely love to eat.

 

In my personal experience, I have to say that so far I would typically choose banh khot over banh xeo. I had already eaten banh khot a number of times at more sit down restaurants in Saigon, like at one of the most famous places in the city, Cô Ba Vũng Tàu.

But as I was meandering through Chợ Bàn Cờ market, a wonderful local market one day, a lady was frying up a storm of pancakes, and the aroma of sizzling batter and shrimp gave both myself and my wife the immediate irresistible urge to stop everything we were doing and eat.

Although there were only about 4 seats available at the counter space, luckily there were two open chairs, which, as we learned in Vietnam – if you see an empty chair and want to eat there, you better sit down immediately. If you contemplate for too long, your seats will be taken. Just like in Tokyo, seats at meal times in restaurants and street food stalls are prime real estate in busy areas of Saigon.

She allowed the mini griddle pancakes to cook for a few minutes, with the lid on, until they were nearly all the way cooked through, fully crispy golden on the bottom side. Then, she tossed on a sprinkle of fried mung beans (I believe that’s what they were), and finally she artfully placed on a little pre-cooked shrimp, and a sprinkle of sliced green onions to top it off. The shrimp added a protein touch, and the pieces with the extra coconut cream topping, added just a hint of even more richness.

 

 

The dipping sauce, a version of nuoc cham, was sweet and salty, and supplemented with thin slices of carrot, daikon, and chilies.

Again, I can hardly express how much I love the Vietnamese style of eating where the main dish is wrapped within leaves and herbs, and dipped into a delicious sauce, before being consumed.

The crispy pancakes were then scooped out of their oily homes onto a plate, and she then asked me if I’d like some extra sauce – which I think was just straight coconut cream – on top.

I decided to go half and half, and she quickly topped half of the plate with the creamy sauce and handed it to me.

As normal, they were served with a plate piled high of leafy vegetables like lettuce and mustard greens, and there were some sprigs of basil and shiso leaves as well.

The basic method for eating is to take one of the wider leaves like a mustard greens leaf for instance, hold it in your palm, then take a mini pancake, place it in the middle, layer it with extra herbs, kind of wrap the entire agglomeration into a spring roll shape (or however it turns out), and then dip into the Vietnamese fish sauce dressing.

I also saw others dip their mini pancake into the sauce, before adding it to the middle of their handful of leaves.

The pancakes were as crispy as fried chicken on the outside, but the batter on the inside was smooth and almost creamy – it actually reminded me of creamy mashed potatoes, yet richer and more coconut flavored.

Banh khot, depending on how hungry you are, can either be a light meal, or just a snack. Like so many other Vietnamese street food dishes, it’s a great social food, something that not only tastes great, but is also fun to assemble and eat.

Not to mention, sitting on a stool, surrounded by a constant flow of shoppers, noise in every direction, commotion everywhere I looked, is in my opinion, one of the finest environments for dining.

 

Conclusion

Banh khot is a crispy Vietnamese bite-sized mini pancake, often eaten as a snack or light meal, and consumed with stacks of green leafy vegetables and herbs, and sweet salty fish sauce.

When I was in Saigon, while exploring a local market, I stopped in the midst of the busy morning shopping bustle, for a hot fresh plate of mini pancakes. Sitting on a stool using the countertop, I enjoyed probably the best Vietnamese mini rice pancakes I’ve ever had.

What I really love about Vietnamese banh khot is the combination of herbs and vegetables paired with the pancakes that are crispy and oily.  The contrast of both flavors and textures is what really makes them delicious.

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