Introducing the Vietnamese Version of Waffles
The pandan waffles at Monster Pho are deliciously crisp honeycombed green things piled high with whipped cream and ice cream—your new favorite dessert.
Change your attitude about waffles with this Vietnamese specialty, bahn kep la dua. At Monster Pho, they're called pandan waffles.
Photo by Lori Eanes
Admit it. When it comes to waffles, you’re remarkably narrow-minded.
They’re only for breakfast, you think. Topped with butter, syrup and/or powdered sugar, you insist.
They’re American, you assert.
So when you sit under the vaulted wooden ceiling at Oakland’s Monster Pho, sandwiched between two big flatscreen TVs and speakers blaring bouncy pop while gazing through massive storefront windows at busy Broadway, and you order a pandan waffle off the dessert menu, prepare to be re-educated, waffle-wise.
Pandan waffles are a standard street treat in Vietnam, where they’re called banh kep la dua and cooked to order in cast-iron molds or conventional waffle irons and sold at tiny, passerby-friendly prices. Their basic provenance is Belgium via France and the U.S.A., but with the addition of local elements that alter everything, as typically happens in tropical colonies.
In this case, the key ingredient is pandan, aka screwpine, which is not a pine but a flowering shrub whose saber-like leaves, pulverized and/or boiled, yield a kelly-green extract; more familiar in Asia than vanilla, its clean, sweetish aroma is chemically similar to that of freshly baked bread. This extract, along with coconut milk, augments waffle batter to produce puffy, perfumed wedges that are shamrock-hued uncut and psychedelically vivid inside.
In Vietnam, they’re typically held in the hand and eaten plain, but at family-owned Monster Pho, which opened last year, each waffle—big enough for two pho-filled diners to share—arrives topped with swirly squirts of whipped cream, a whopping scoop of vanilla ice cream, and a sprig of mint.
Exhaling coconutty tropicality and freshly baked-breadiness, Monster Pho’s waffles are sufficiently firm and crispy on the surface to resist disintegrating as the ice cream and whipped cream melt slowly into the hot pastry. Making the very ideas of syrup and breakfast seem absurd, this dish is part spectacle, part sundae, part porously edible platter, part cake—because waffles, with their obliging honeycomblike hollows, are ingeniously efficient vessels for whatever soft, smooth, evanescent substances are poised atop them.
And you never know where they’ll turn up.
3905 Broadway, Oakland, 510-788-4459, www.MonsterPho.com.