Community Survey: Bánh Khọt, Vietnamese Mini Rice Pancake/Cupcake
Let’s focus on Bánh Khọt, the popular Vietnamese street snack. This post kicks off an evergreen discussion of the dish and the places to find it in the San Francisco Bay Area. Everyone's invited to play. Good, bad or indifferent, “authentic” or not, please post here about any and all formats when you try them.
Many renditions of banh khot are displayed on this tumblr page.
Until recently, I had assumed that Bánh Khọt like many of the other precious types of little “bánh” is a Central Vietnamese dish from the royal courts of Hue. Not so. While there’s no agreement on where this snack first appeared in Vietnam, it is considered a Southern specialty. And, Vung Tau, the coastal town not far from Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) is reputed to have the best ones.
This video shows how they’re made in Vung Tau, Vietnam. Those little metal lids covering each banh khot cooking on the griddle are pretty cute.
And this source claims Khmer origins.
Legal Nomads offers some background and a recipe.
Linked below are some of the places chowhounds have reported on, most include links to photos of the banh khot served there.
Vung Tau, Newark
Cao Nguyen, San Jose
Ngoc Mai, San Francisco
Yummy Yummy, San Francisco
Banh Khot Vung Tau, San Jose
Tamarine, Palo Alto
Vietnam House, San Francisco
Ba Le, Oakland
Alice Patis’ guide to banh
The photo below is from Ngoc Mai (2005)
A month ago I had a chance to return to Lau Hai San, the new venture from the folks at Thanh Huong Sandwich and located behind that store.
In a word, ASTOUNDING. Formed into a nearly complete sphere, the Bánh Khọt had a thinner chive-flecked shell with uniformly golden brown crust. Inside the hollow cavity, a perfectly cooked, juicy sweet shrimp (no tail shells), cilantro leaf, and dried shrimp powder with more of the powder and green onions dusted over the top. The delicate crispness of the outer shell yielded to the soft coconut custard-like texture of the inner layer. These were somewhat less sweet than I’ve had elsewhere and not stained yellow with turmeric. This photo looks into the open “mouth”.
The bountiful plate of herb garnishes included dewy fresh rau ram, basil, mint, red leaf lettuce, and mustard leaf, as shown here.
Tasting the nước chấm, I smiled and thought to myself, “Yes! This is San Jose.” Less sweet, brinier with fish sauce, and not scare of being spicy, the dipping sauce did not skimp on the pickled carrots and radish either. The components are the same as the insipid ones offered up outside the San Jose area, just applied with less water and made up fresh and zingy here. Interestingly, the customers at a neighboring table add even more chiles to theirs.
Wrapping the banh khot in pieces of lettuce with the fresh herbs, I found that I liked the combination with mint the best. Yet, I enjoyed changing it up with the others to make each mouthful different. Bundled in greenery and dipped in nuoc cham, this plate of banh khot was simply brilliant.
When I paid my bill, the young owner asked if everything was satisfactory. I told him that I’d never seen the spherical treatment before and now I only want that style. He puffed up with pride and explained that they turn the pancakes in the pan to spread out the batter. He said this allows for more even cooking so that the center is fully cooked and the crust can stay crisp. It certainly works on both those counts.
More about Lau Hai San in San Jose
I had Vung Tau #1's banh khot last Feb. with some relatives who were visiting. They live in the DC area and never saw or tried banh khot until that day, despite the many vietnamese restaurants and gatherings they've eaten at. They were so floored, I ordered a second order, which were also gobbled up before any of us remembered to take a picture. But I remember they are the near-spherical kind like Vung Tau III's BK pictured. They were hands down the best banh khot I've ever had, and I think I remember the greens/herbs & dipping sauce were good too. But now I really gotta try Lau Hai San's BK.
re: Alice Patis
VT are my "gold standard" for BK, at the moment.
Kinda odd difference between VT#1 and #3, greens/herbs-wise.
At VT#1, the BK are $8.50 and included greens/herbs. At VT#3 they are $7.50 and came with no greens/herbs. When I asked they said it was +$1 to add them and would that be OK?
Guessing they had a lot of waste @ VT#3 vs. VT#1 of people not eating the greens so made them optional? The plate was lettuce, rau ram, basil, and mint.
I looked at the menu on my way out and they did mention the $1 charge for veggies which I'd completely overlooked.
Based on Melanie's post I also need to try out Lau Hai San's version next time I'm in SJ.
Thanks for the photo. They've gotten closer to the full sphere since I was last there.
The pans for making these are of two types that I've seen. One kind has a rounded depression and is the same as used for making aebleskivers. (And I just realized it's been ages since someone has asked where to find aebleskivers.) The other type of iron is flattened on the base of the well.
Great post! Thanks for including all those links, Melanie. So there was a “South Bay Viet Lunch group” in 2008! Is that tradition still going? If not, is anyone interested in re-starting it?
I’ll add one more link, for the Chowdown at Vietnam House that pane organized with Windy after her initial VH experience—
My experience with banh khot is limited but I’ve never had one I didn’t like. The version at Vung Tau in San Jose made the best impression on me but that may be because it was my first. Vietnam House also makes a very good version. The first time I had BK at the Vung Tau stand in Grand Century Mall in San Jose (not related to the restaurant of the same name) I thought it was quite good but I was less impressed the second time. My memory is hazy as to what was particularly good or not so good about the different versions, but I did comment on the difference between VT and VH in my post to pane’s Chowdown thread- http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8433...
I will definitely be checking out the BK at Lau Hai San.
While it'd be really fun to reactivate the South Bay Viet Lunch Group, I don't have much time or energy to do it. Carb Lover is probably even busier than me.
But someone can feel free to form a new South Bay Viet Lunch Group (using MeetUp, Evite, or Chowhound, or just collecting emails).
And anyone can organize a Chowdown and invite everyone on these boards. I might organize a Chowdown to Lau Hai San but I don't know if I can commit to that idea.
Had banh khot at Vietnam House on Wednesday and it was so good it's hard for me to see how anyone could do it better. Maybe Vung Tau, but it has been so long since I had it there it's hard to compare. I added a report on Wednesday's VH meal to the Chowdown thread-- http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8433...
I learned two things on Wednesday-- beware of using too many greens (on our first order I overwhelmed the cupcake flavor with excess greens) and temperature matters a lot. Our second order on Wednesday was delivered so quickly it was almost too hot to eat, and we all decided to eat it without greens-- we liked the second batch better, but presumably it was no different from the first except for the temperature. It makes sense to me that Vung Tau makes greens optional, as reported above by drewskiSF.
At VH we got 7 cakes for $7.95. Even with their small size that's a lot of pleasure for $1.14 each.
Yes, they do, and they're made in the same kind of specialized pan. I wonder if banh khot are made with two different batters the way Thai kanom krok (or Lao kanom kok) are.
The link in my original post to the Khmer recipe page says the khmer name is “ num kroot”. So that second word is pretty close to Thai "krok".
Here's my photo of kanom kok in the iron at one of the food festivals at the Lao temple in Santa Rosa.
Banh Xeo Tao Ngo offers banh khot and these are pretty different than what we usually see too. Seven to an order, they’re translated on the menu as “Vietnamese crepe”, $6.99.
Seeing “corners” threw me. They seem to be cooked as a flat griddled pancake, then pressed into a hollow mold and filled. Inside are two small, perfectly cooked shrimp free of tail shells, a layer that seemed to be close to all or entirely rich coconut cream, and a scatter of chopped scallions. No shrimp powder here. I liked the lightness of the outside layer that stayed very crisp. It seemed to be the same turmeric-colored batter as used for the banh xeo.
The huge pile of herb and lettuce garnishes was for both my banh xeo and these banh khot. And the same nuoc mam too. The herbs included fresh giấp cá (fish mint).
I liked this version very much too. No doughy spots and the contrast between the crisp shell and near liquid coconut cream made this more interesting.
Tao Ngo Restaurant
2651 Senter Rd
9am to 9pm