Cheap & Good

Cheap & Good: Vietnamese banh xeo from Saigon Food Street

Dip the crispy banh xeo in a mix of fish and chilli sauces and lime juice for extra oomph.
Dip the crispy banh xeo in a mix of fish and chilli sauces and lime juice for extra oomph.ST PHOTO: KENNETH GOH

Three months after a holiday to Vietnam, my craving for Vietnamese crepes or banh xeo (pronounced baan say-oh) has not subsided.

Xeo refers to the sizzling sounds made when the batter touches the hot pan.

I have fond memories of tucking into the yellow crepes, filled with meat and fistfuls of crunchy vegetables on the chaotic streets of Hanoi.

There are some decent ones at a handful of restaurants here, but at more than $10, the prices are exorbitant compared with what I had paid in Vietnam.

When a friend tells me about Saigon Food Street, a Vietnamese food stall in Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre that sells banh xeo at $5, I scramble to go there, despite the 45-minute bus ride from home.

The 1½-month-old stall sells an assortment of pho (Vietnamese rice noodles), porridge and snacks such as fried banana with a coconut dip.

These dishes are whipped up by Mr Steven Kok, 32, and his Vietnamese wife Tran Thi Giau, 33, who is from Ho Chi Minh City and has been living here for eight years.

  • SAIGON FOOD STREET
     

    Where: 01-17 Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre, 259 Bukit Panjang Ring Road; tel: 9794-3631; Open: 8am to 9.30pm daily

    Rating: 3.5/5

Ms Tran learnt these recipes from her family and from working as a cook in NamNam Noodle Bar in Raffles City for two years.

After a 10-minute wait, the banh xeo, which is made to order, arrives piping hot. It looks like a gigantic taco and the folded crepe spills over the sides of the plate. The wafer- thin pancake, which is flavoured with turmeric and coconut milk, also has a mild ginger-like aroma.

I love the contrast of textures - the crispness of the skin that envelopes the plump and soft shrimp, pork slices and crunchy beansprouts. For more oomph, dip the crepe in a mix of fish and chilli sauces and lime juice.

Besides banh xeo, another highlight is the wagyu beef pho. At $8.50, this dish is a steal. Each bowl is blanketed with more than 10 thin slices of Australian wagyu and filled to the brim with a flavourful beef stock.

The stock is simmered with beef bones and a "secret" blend of Vietnamese herbs and spices for more than five hours. Coriander and spring onions add a gentle, herbaceous perfume.

I enjoy slurping and chewing the springy rice noodles with the tender beef in the heat of the hawker centre.

Condiments are a big part of Vietnamese cuisine. Mr Kok says that the pho is best accompanied with a blend of Vietnamese hoisin and chilli sauces and a squeeze of lime juice as it makes the soup more tangy. Customers can help themselves to the condiments at the counter.

There is also a smaller version of the beef pho bowl. At $2.50, Ms Tran hopes that it can attract more diners to give pho a go.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 28, 2017, with the headline 'Vietnamese crepe a great reminder of trip'. Print Edition | Subscribe