There is something about Vietnamese and Thai cooking that draws me towards it every time I’m at a loose end choosing where/what to eat or what to cook. Fresh ingredients, fast cooking times, the vibrant final product, and, most importantly the perfect harmony of flavours. Sweet, sour, spicy, and salty coming together in one dish; making it sing on your tastebuds and put a smile on your face for the rest of the day!
This particular post focuses on Vietnamese Pancakes which I ate for the first time at a restaurant in Canada, back in the summer of 2008, called Pan Chancho. They had served me a delicious Vietnamese pancake filled with seafood, pork, fresh beansprouts, julienned carrots and a generous helping of salad on the side. It was crunchy, fresh and each ingredient’s own flavours shone through. They had served it with a generic sweet chilli sauce, but it worked well to bring all of the dish together. At the time I had no idea whether this was authentic fare… and as I became busy with finishing school and university, I forgot about our enticing encounter and never searched for it again…
Exactly a leap year later, I approached a rather simple looking Vietnamese restaurant on the 7th floor of Bangkok’s MBK center and perused their menu. I was very excited to read they served Vietnamese pancakes, and thought back to Pan Chancho. I was shown to my seat and offered a menu again… but I had already decided I wished to be re-acquainted with the crispy half-moon that I had munched upon that hot Canadian summer’s day.
I placed my order and waited about 15 minutes for a beverage and my pancake to arrive. Placed before me, was a much larger and more resplendent golden pancake. So crisp you didn’t need to touch it to tell. On the side, in place of the chilli sauce was a small pot of quartered, sliced Thai cucumber (much much smaller than their European counterparts) which had been immersed in a solution of vinegar, water, and sugar; topped with a few slices of Thai red chilli .
I lifted the crisp golden veil and saw very fresh beansprouts, minced pork, and finely chopped jelly mushroom (a.k.a black fungus–> don’t let this put you off reading on. It wasn’t really fungus, that would just be wrong.)It didn’t appear to have been spiced with much more than a little fish sauce and black pepper or cooked for too long either- straight into the pan, stir fried and onto the pancake, ready to be eaten.
On the side were julienned carrots and white radish…which lent a slightly astringent property to the simple yet sophisticated palate of flavours comprising the filling.
I picked up my knife and fork and made the first incision. I ensured I maintained a decent filling to pancake ratio and folded it all into a delicate little parcel, embellishing it with a piece of cucumber… Which I then brutishly speared with my fork and took the first bite.
What can I say? It was better than I remembered. The pork was tender and amped up by the meatiness of the mushroom. Crunch! Crunch! Crunch! Crunch! The pancake, beansprouts, cucumber, and carrots added the final flourish of textures as I chewed my way to the next morsel…. or should I say MORE-sel. There was a slight hit of spice from the seasoning in the pork, a flash of sourness from the cucumber and refreshing spritzes of moisture from the other vegetables. Every component simple, and in perfect harmony.
Despite the generous amount of filling inside the pancake, I felt so light after eating it- most probably owing to the freshness of the ingredients that went into its manufacture, The pancake is made of mung bean flour (gluten free!!) and I think a little bit of rice flour as well so it is definitely easy to digest.
I re-visited this restaurant over Christmas 2012 and tried other dishes (saved for a forthcoming post..) which were spectacular too.
Texture: 5/5 (OBVIOUSLY!)
Presentation: 5/5 (The Vietnamese and Thais eat first with their eyes… I’m not at all surprised why.)
Value for money: 5/5
Being re-united with a forgotten cuisine and being transported into a state of saporous nirvana: 5/5