Tasty Tuesday

The Tastiest Tuesdays of 2015 · Banh Xeo (Vietnamese Crispy Pancake)

Michael Pham of Phamily Kitchen
Tuesday 19th January 2016

We’re lucky to work in Collingwood, where there is never a shortage of lunch options! In February last year, one of our favourite spots opened, Phamily Kitchen on Smith St. Owned by Michael Pham, this brightly coloured (and often instagrammed!) restaurant serves fresh and intensely flavoursome modern Vietnamese fare, inspired by recipes from Michael’s childhood years.

Today we revisit Phamily Kitchen’s traditional prawn and pork Banh Xeo (Vietnamese crispy pancake) – this is hands down our favourite item on the menu!

For a very, very, very long time Vietnamese food intimidated me. I didn’t ever think I could cook it as well as my mother, grandmothers or aunties, so I didn’t even bother. So at home I would always cook Italian, Turkish, French, American, Chinese, Japanese, you name it, I’d try it. But never food from the motherland. Nah uh. Then, a couple of years ago, I threw caution to the wind and went for it, and I’ve never looked back. It’s just so damn light, fresh, delicate, fragrant, and most of the time so simple to make.

And now, there’s Phamily Kitchen on Smith St, which pays homage to these family favourites, along with nods to the Victoria St/Footscray/Cabramatta/Inala/Darra restaurants of my youth. Bright colours, pastel pink ceilings, melamine cutlery, Chinese tea, freaky-coloured drinks, it’s all there.

Whenever my friend Nathan and I wander down to Victoria St for an impromptu feed, he always feels compelled to order Banh Xeo. Since most places smash it out in the largest family-sized wok they can find, it usually becomes a group meal – a bit of a spectacle, especially when we’re a bit rowdy. However on a recent trip back to the motherland I discovered that the ladies at Ba Le Well Kitchen in Hoi An cook them in these elegant little pans, on butane burners in a row of 12 at a time. I was inspired by this slightly daintier cooking method – it’s less of a food orgy, and far tastier than the jumbo family-woks I’ve become accustomed to.

This dish is great for so many reasons. Besides being amazingly crispy, and easy; it looks damn impressive – the batter is easy to make, the bright yellow colour pops on the table and is certain to get mouths watering.

Ingredients

For the batter

  • 1 cup rice flour
  • 1/2 cup cornflour
  • Pinch of tumeric or two to colour
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced spring onions

For the filling

  • 150g pork belly, 1cm pieces, pan fried until golden, and small cooked prawns, halved; or
  • grilled firm white fish like barramundi; or
  • grilled tofu

Garnishes

  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 1/2 white daikon, grated
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Water to cover
  • 1/4 shredded iceberg lettuce
  • 150g packet bean sprouts
  • Coriander sprigs
  • Fried onions

Nuoc cham dressing

  • 1/2 cup fish sauce
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • Dash of fresh lemon or white vinegar to taste

Method

For the dressing, dissolve sugar in warm water, and gradually add the fish sauce to taste – some brands will be stronger than others so go easy and add until it tastes about right. Pop a squeeze of fresh lemon or a dash of white vinegar in for zestiness. Set aside.

Make some quick pickles. Grate the carrot and daikon, and let soak in the fridge in vinegar, water and sugar for at least ten minutes.

To make the pancake batter, whisk together rice flour, cornflour, tumeric and coconut milk. Add 1 1/2 cups water and salt, whisk well. Let batter sit for 10 minutes, then stir in spring onions.

Heat a small 20-24cm non-stick frypan with a little oil over near high heat. Whisk batter well each time beforehand. When oil is shiny but not smoking, tilt pan and evenly ladle a thin layer of batter on.

Quickly add prepared fillings to the batter before it sets.

Cook crepe until almost dry and crispy (it’s gotta still be moist enough to fold over). Add a neat handful of bean sprouts and let cook down for 2-3 minutes.

Fold crepe over with spatula, slide the crepe onto your plate.

Serve with shredded lettuce leaves, pickled carrot, daikon, coriander, fried onions and the nuoc cham dressing.

Phamily Kitchen
374 Smith Street
Collingwood, VIC 3066

Michael Pham of Phamily Kitchen channelling the distinctive decor of his fab little restaurant in Collingwood. Ten out of ten for effort! Photo – Sean Fennessy for The Design Files.


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