Discovering a hitherto unknown facet of a cuisine one loves is always an exploratory exercise. You get to taste a new dish, you gain some knowledge about a culture different from your own and it leaves you curious enough to want to explore the country some more. In my case, it made me more determined to visit Vietnam some day for its scenic vistas and fabulous food.
Vietnamese cuisine includes an unusual pancake called the Bánh xèo, which literally means sizzling cake, named for the loud sizzling sound it makes when the rice batter is poured onto the hot skillet. A savoury pancake, similar to a French crepe or our very own masala dosa is made from batter that is a mix of rice flour, turmeric and water. Some parts of Vietnam use coconut milk and soy flour while others leave out the turmeric.
It can be stuffed with a variety of ingredients like pork, shrimp, corn, chicken or even beef. What goes into every pancake though are the lentils and bean sprouts, according to Executive Chef Rishi Manucha. Traditionally, the way the Vietnamese people eat it is by hand; they break a piece of the pancake, wrap it in lettuce leaves and dip it in a chilli or fish sauce for extra taste.
Syn, the pan-Asian Grill and Bar at the Taj Deccan, is currently holding a festival of Bánh xèo till the end of this month. The menu has rice pancakes with different stuffings on offer. For the meat and sea food lovers, there is the Rice Pancake with baby shrimp; or Hibachi Chicken and shitake mushrooms; pickled vegetables and mutton or pan seared tenderloin Rendang. Chef Rishi has tweaked the stuffings to give them different flavours, so you have the Hibachi chicken one with a Japanese influence and the Rendang tenderloin reminiscent of Malaysian spices and pastes.
The vegetarian options are Rice pancake with a mélange of mushrooms and aged ginger; asparagus and water chestnut; shoots and tofu or corn and lotus root. I tried the pancakes with baby shrimp and the corn and lotus root. I preferred the latter because it had a little more crunch to it and one could eat it without any of the sauces provided. The baby shrimp one however, was a bit on the bland side, so the sauce was a must add for some zing.
The pancakes were surprisingly well sized so for small eaters like me, even a single portion is enough; though it can be combined with other Asian main course options if one is adventurous and curious about these pancakes.
What is indisputable is that they were tasty, unique to Syn and Hyderabad and for foodies like us, a new and delicious discovery.