Bánh Xèo Mười Xiềm, Saigon
For a quick lunch break between meetings today, my local colleagues asked me if I wanted to try "happy pancakes." That could have meant a million things, but I figured that they were talking about bánh xèo, which they were. I asked why they called them happy pancakes, and they said it was not only because they were shaped like a smile when folded in half, but also because they made you smile when you ate them.
We thus came down to this shop, which I was told was named after this lady from the Mekong Delta who was selected to cook the dish at some festival in the US, after which she came back here to open a couple of shops, one branch of which was at 190 Nam Kỳ Khởi Nghĩa (3933-0207, 10.78208°N, 106.69246°E). It was a bit more commercialized than I was hoping for, but that didn't matter in the end.
I knew that we were in southern Vietnam when these huge baskets of fresh herbs and leaves were brought out to us. There must have been at least eight or nine different varieties in there for us to create little wraps with, some of which were quite pungent, including one that tasted like root beer as well as that nasty one that I still can't get used to.
Well, as long as I avoided that one, I liked this stuff, as the rice paper crepes were light and complemented the leaves spicy fish sauce dip. At one point, I stopped wrapping it in the leaves as their aroma sometimes overpowered the crepes themselves, but baskets of the freshly washed leaves just kept getting refilled. My colleagues also ordered a couple of other varieties, including some small ones shaped like egg tarts. But the traditional ones were good enough for me.