Banh xeo – a pancake originating in Vietnam, but nowhere else is it served using rabbitfish fillings other than Chuon Village in Vietnam’s imperial capital of Hue.
A banh xeo (Vietnamese pancake) with a rabbitfish filling in Hue:
The Chuon Village in Hue Town has a delicacy you cannot get anywhere else – a banh xeo (Vietnamese pancake) with a rabbitfish filling.
The banh xeo – a pancake originating in Vietnam – has gained popularity across the country over the last few decades, but nowhere else is it served using rabbitfish fillings other than Chuon Village in Vietnam’s former imperial capital of Hue.
The village has another name, An Truyen, but Chuon is what it is popularly called. It is about 10 km away from downtown Hue in central Vietnam.
The rabbitfish can be bought in the village at 5:30-6 a.m, soon after the fisherman have finished their night shift.
Vendors sit right on the river banks to sell the fish to those who come there early. The remaining fish are later supplied to restaurants in the town.
According to the vendors, newly caught rabbitfish will have a black skin, which will slowly turn silver later. When they are no longer fresh, the skin turns yellow. Buying the fish at around 6 a.m. is the best way to get the fresh ones.
Even those who buy the fish from the riverside vendors will sometimes take their purchases to the market nearby to get the special pancakes made. The popularity of the dish can be gauged from the number of stalls selling it in the market. Each stall has several stoves glowing red hot, a small table and a few plastic chairs for customers to sit.
The cooks wash the fish and drizzle some oil on the pan. They fry the fish with a layer of flour and let it sit for about three minutes after topping with mung beans and scallions. Then it is flipped and cooked on the other side for another two minutes.
The expert cooks charge just VND2,000 ($0.09) for making a dish if you supply the ingredients. If you have your breakfast directly at a stall, a rabbitfish pancake costs about VND50,000-60,000 ($2.2-2.6) per serving.
Since this fish is not cheap, the rabbitfish pancake is not a regular option for the villagers. They usually substitute the fish with shrimp or pork.
The locals will tell every visitor that the best and the right way to eat this pancake is with your hands. After removing the fin and the bones of the fish, they will dip the pancake into a spicy fish sauce before it goes into the mouth. The spicy, crunchy and rich taste of this pancake invariably has customers coming back for more.
The other versions of this dish, with a shrimp or squid filling, is also worth trying.
Tuan Doan, a tourist who has developed a strong liking for the dish and the way it is made, said: “The great thing about this dish is that you have to wake up early to prepare the ingredients, an experience that you cannot get in any restaurant.”