There is nothing I like better than to eat an authentic meal in the natural setting of another culture.
And this Vietnamese feast of Banh Xeo - pronounced bon SAY-oh - is as legit as they come. I ate it on my first night In Danang and again after our trip to the Marble Mountains, and both experiences wre delicious and real.
The first challenge is to find the place. The journey begins with the usual mind-boggling series of twists and turns through the crowded streets of the city. Then we head down an alley.
Well, it starts out as a normal alley, by American standards. Wide enough for a car to traverse, with a little room to spare. But within a few dozen yards, this alley narrows, and then narrows again, until it seems that even my tiny motorbike will jam between its walls, hopelessly stuck forever.
But of course, we somehow pass through and park our bikes...where? In the back corner of a minuscule kitchen. We step through a tiny doorway to find... a dining room. A family dining room, jammed with small tables and chairs, and on the wall, a painting of Jesus dressed up like a king.
The first time we visit, in the late evening, the tables were hopelessy cluttered, the floor covered with litter and the whole room of questionable sanitary condition. The second time, when we arrive in mid-afternoon, the room was neat and clean. In any case, I survived both meals so there's that.
As soon as we arrive, family members whisk bowls and plates to our table. Fresh greens, pickled mango, slices cucumbers, and a red sauce that smells of oeanuts, as shown above.
Soon the warm components arrive. Wooden skewers of spicy pork sausage. And little yellow taco-shaped thingys. I later learn that these are egg crepes filled with cooked shrimp and veggies.
We also receive a plate full of...thin sheets of paper. Or so it appears. These are actually the edible wrappers that form the foundation of the Banh Xeo deliciousness I learn to build this yummy treat as follows:
Take two wrappers, and lay them in your hand so they assume the shape of a small and very thin tortilla.
Lay one of the crepe thingys in the middle of the wrappers.
Top the crepe with a sausage. Just lay it on there, skewer and all. Then grab the sausage with the hand that is holding this entire contraption and hold firm. Whith your free hand, grasp the skewer and wiggle it free. But don't throw it away. You pay for Banh Xeo by the empty skewer so it's important to keep an accurate count.
Ok now relax your grip on the handful of food and sprinkle the top of your creation with any and all of the fresh trimmings.
Now it's time to eat. Roll the wrapper to create a tidy and tiny burrito-like bundle, then dip it in the sauce before each bite
Rest and repeat.
I ate four without even trying.
Goodness, they are heavenly.
So if you find yourself in Danang, Vietnam and hankering for a native treat, I recommend the Banh Xeo without reservation.
I would take you there myself, if only I could remember the way.