Vegan Banh Xeo in Vietnam
Today we’re off to the market in Hoi An in search of vegan banh xeo, can travelling vegans eat vegan Vietnamese food here? Oh yes they can!
Vegans can eat here too…
There are lots of people selling fruit and veg and so if you are making a picnic there’s always an abundance of the best tasting produce you’ll find right at your fingertips. You’ll have to invoke extraordinary levels of human tolerance and patience in order to survive the market experience as people will be bartering hard, trying to rip you off or trying to convince you that you want to look in a clothes shop when you are trying to work out how many mangoes to buy.
All of this aside though, the local market in Hoi An offers a good chance to get some local vegan Vietnamese food. We were on a mission to try to find some vegan ‘Banh Xeo’ after having tried the restaurant version recently. Luckily, the woman selling them spoke a little English, we are still pretty awful at speaking Viitnamese and so this meant we could get a ‘chay’ (vegetarian) version which we are confident was actually free from any sneaky non-vegan ingredients like ‘nuoc mam’ (fish sauce).
About to get us some vegan Banh Xeo…
The pancake batter is made from rice flour and turmeric (and sometimes with a little coconut milk) and ladled into small cast iron frying pans where it makes the very satisfying sizzling noise (which is where it gets its name from). Beansprouts were piled on and the lid was placed over the top to cook it through for a short while before adding a big glug of oil on top (why oh why?!) and then dishing them up with lettuce, cucumber and fresh herbs.
The nearly finished product
Once you have your Banh Xeo, you wrap them up in a ‘Banh Trang’, which are thin, dry, rice flour pancakes. Then you stuff in some herbs and lettuce and roll it up; squashing it all together as you go. Once rolled, we were instructed to dip our pancakes in the mystery dipping sauce. We have no idea what was in it; our Banh Xeo cook told us it was made from soy sauce but it was actually quite thick and not that salty so who knows what else had been done to it; she said it was suitable for us as vegans though so we took the plunge, added a scoop of fresh chilli paste and ate it.
Ready to get rolling…
Crunchy pancake, fresh salad and herbs and a light rice flour wrapper
Half way through we had a sudden overpowering taste of fish and were doubting the lack of animal ingredients, but it turns out this taste is from a Vietnamese herb called ‘Diep Ca’ otherwise known as ‘fish mint’. We’re not quite sure whether we like the taste yet, it really does give off quite a boiled cod flavour in your mouth, but we’re happy that it’s from a plant and not a fish. Our Vietnamese homestay host tells us there are many healthy properties to this herb so at least the fishy taste is doing us some good.
On the whole the Banh Xeo were lovely, probably a little bit too much oil for us on this occasion but that’s probably down to the cook rather than the general rule, so our official Vegan Food Quest recommendation is: find them, eat them or make them – they are a pancake, wrapped in a pancake after all! We’ll be kind enough to add that the boiled cod herb is optional…