Vietnamese Sandwich – Banh Mi
“Happily, I’d eaten some of the best sandwiches I’d ever had. But is the Banh Mi the best sandwich in the world?” That’s what David Farley wrote about Vietnamese Sandwich (Bánh Mì) on BBC Travel. Today Vietnamese people are very proud of Vietnamese sandwich. I would like to tell you a story about Vietnamese Sandwich as well as share the love of this food to everybody all over the world.
1. From French Baguette to Vietnamese Sandwich
The origin of Vietnamese Sandwich is French baguette. Perhaps bread had been imported into Vietname before 1859, but it has become popular since French army attacked and occupied Gia Dinh city (former name of Ho Chi Minh city). But the bread used to make Banh Mi is a Vietnamese style French baguette which is made with wheat flour. The bread isn’t overly dense and has light and crackly crust.
Before 1975, government of the Republic of South Vietnam had provided light meals to pupils at primary schools in Saigon. The meals included milk produced by Fore Most company and baguette produced in bakeries in the city. That was a big challenge to baguette bakeries because with traditional French brick ovens, they couldn’t bake enough baguettes. In 1970s, Matador and Anwator electric deck ovens from Japan were used to replace the old brick ovens.
Old brick ovens were used to bake baguette in 1950s, 1960s
With electric deck ovens, more baguettes can be produced
Besides French people, Chinese people produced baguette to sell to Western people who lived in the city. Saigon people also bought this food and ate like a snack. Waiters who worked at restaurants and translators had chance to taste baguette for the first time. Then baguette had become popular amongst officers, students and citizen. From time to time the food had reached countryside and had been sold everywhere. Baguette was considered a valuable gift to family in rural countryside when a member returned home from Saigon. After that, baguette has been sold popularly in Saigon and it has been a favorite of Saigon people. It has been sold at Saigon markets, in baskets on bikes, mobile baskets and at street food stalls.
A vendor was selling baguette at a market in Saigon
A man was riding his bike with a basket full of baguettes around the streets
Saigon vendors simply put baguettes into small baskets and stood on the streets to sell them
Saigon people were buying baguettes at a street food stall on Trưng Nữ Vương street
2. First Vietnamese Sandwich stall in Saigon
Located at crossroads of Cao Thắng street and Nguyễn Đình Chiểu street, a stall with old sign “Bánh Mì Hòa Mã” is the first stall that sold Vietnamese Sandwich in Ho Chi Minh city. The owner are Mr. Lê Minh Ngọc and his wife – Mrs Nguyễn Thị Tịnh. In 1954, they immigrated from North Vietnam to Saigon. These days, there were many bakeries owned by French people. They sold French style baguettes and cakes. Cooled meat was sold separately to eat with the bread according to customer’s request. Mrs Tịnh had worked for a French bakery in Hà Nội so that the couple wanted to start selling bread and cooled meat when they arrived in Saigon. In 1958, Hòa Mã stall was opened at 511 Phan Đình Phùng street (nowadays Nguyễn Đình Chiểu street, District 3). After 2 years, the stall moved to 53 Cao Thắng, District 3 and has been there until today.
An old photo of Bánh Mì Hòa Mã
Bánh Mì Hòa Mã in recent days
At first they also sold baguette and cooled meat separately. Customers ate at the stall or brought home. But their customers were officers, workers, students, pupils who didn’t have enough time to eat at the stall. The owner put pork meat, pork pie and pate into the 1 span long baguette to make it more convenient for students, officers to bring to their universities, working places… The taste of the food was very special. It costed from 3 to 10 VND. The owner called the baguette with cooled meat “cát-cút” (casse-croûte in French) which means super bowl. Nowadays we called it Bánh Mì in Vietnamese and foreigners called it Vietnamese Sandwich. The Vietnamese Sandwich Hòa Mã has been a favorite of many Saigon people and the stall has been always crowded for many years.
3. Taste of Vietnamese Sandwich has diversified
Wheat-flour bread has been the most common source of starch in Western cuisine for a long time. In Vietnamese’s eyes, bread was a snack when it was just imported into the country. It was considered as “steamed rice on the go”. But in recent days, it is number one food on Saigon streets. The interesting change on the standard taste and texture of Bánh Mì surts the fancy and satisfies culinary needs of Saigon people.
There are countless of breads with different shapes and recipes. And there are many ways to eat breads. The classic ways to eat bread are: bread with beef steak, bacon, soup, pate, sausage, scrambled egg, butter, jam… Vietnamese people rarely eat bread like that. We prefer fillings put into the bread. The crust must be crispy, the size must be medium and with less starch. We don’t use Western products such as bacon or sausage as above but our traditional foods such as pork pie and braised pork. People in South Vietnam like eating vegetables and pickles, so that we add some slices of cucumber, carrot and daikon pickles, green onion, coriander, some slices of chili or black pepper, soy sauce and tomato sauce. In addition, we also add pate and butter. At the end, we have a baguette filled with meat, vegetables, pate, butter, spices and sauce. This amazing food is a perfect mix of the tender meat, the fresh vegetables, the sour and sweet pickles and the hot chili. The great flavor has attracted people at all ages.
Besides Bánh Mì with cooled meat, there are others Bánh Mì with various fillings that are mouth-watering: grilled pork, beef pie, fish pie, canned fish, pork floss, stewed organ, beef jerky, char sew, shredded chicken, toasted pork, pork skin strip…
4. Vietnamese Sandwich is sold everywhere and eaten at any time
More and more Bánh Mì has been sold in the city. People eat Bánh Mì everywhere on the streets, at working places, at schools, at home… and at any time of the day as breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper. The reason is that it is not only delicious but also cheap and convenient. It’s a food for all: poor people and rich people. Vietnamese people have created many flavorful recipes of Bánh Mì. Everyday Bánh Mì has been sold at metal rolling carts, street food shoulder poles, street food stalls and in bakeries. This kind of food has become the soul of Saigon.
Bánh Mì was sold in a glass case on the street
Bánh Mì at street food shoulder pole on the street
A long standing Bánh Mì metal stall in Saigon – Bánh Mì Bảy Hổ lasts over 70 years
Bánh Mì Huỳnh Hoa – one of the most famous Bánh Mì shop in Saigon
Well-known Bánh Mì Như Lan
Bánh Mì Tuan Map – a new trademark of Bánh Mì
5. The rise of Vietnamese Sandwich
Is it surprised? For over a decade, we have been proud of Pho which is on every magazine and travel guide. Pho is a symbol of Vietnamese cuisine, Pho is a must when tourists come to Vietnam. But things has been changed for the last 2 years when all foreigners talk about Vietnamese food is Bánh Mì. It has attracted thousands of fans like never before. It is hot topics on newspapers, magazines, travel guides, websites. Iamfoodblog – a famous food blogger has written: “I think Bánh Mì, or Vietnamese Sandwiches might be my favorite sandwich. Bánh Mì is praised in foreign press. Richard Johnson has written a story in Guardian’s travel section, in which he made a list of the best street foods around the world and Vietnam’s Bánh Mì is placed second.
In England, America and other countries, hundreds of Bánh Mì restaurants have been opened. Their names are very Vietnamese: Bun mee, Banh mi My Tho, Kêu, Banh Mi Bay, Banhmi11.
Ô Bánh Mì – a famous trademark of Bánh Mì in Malaysia has become a boom. Vietnamese at Ô Bánh Mì is a favorite food of Malaysian. There is a Bánh Mì mobile stall which is well-known in Thailand. Yum Brands, which owns KFC and Pizza Hut opened a Vietnamese Bread restaurant in Texas and named it Banh Shop.
The famous Bánh Mì mobile stall in Bangkok, Thailand
BanhShop – a Bánh Mì restaurant of Yum Brands
Bun Mee – a famous Bánh Mì restaurant in America
Kêu! – a Banh Mi shop in London, England
Ô Bánh Mì in Malaysia
Banhmi11 – a well-known Banh Mi shop in England
6. Where to find the best Vietnamese Sandwich in Vietnam
Best places to eat Bánh Mì in Ho Chi Minh city:
- Bánh Mì Hòa Mã at 51 Cao Thắng street, District 1
- Bánh Mì Bảy Hổ at 23 Huỳnh Khương Ninh street, District 1
- Bánh Mì Huỳnh Hoa at 26 Lê Thị Riêng street, District 1
- Bánh Mì Nguyên Sinh at 141 Trần Đình Xu street, District 1
- Bánh Mì Minh Châu at 76 Lý Tự Trọng street, District 1
- Bánh Mì Như Lan at 50 Hàm Nghi street, District 1
- Bánh Mì Như Lan at 64 – 66 – 68 Hàm Nghi street, District 1
- Bánh Mì Hà Nội at 106-108 Lê Thị Riêng street, District 1
- 97 Trần Đình Xu street, District 1
- 124 Pasteur street, District 1
- 38 Nguyễn Thái Sơn street, District Gò Vấp
- Alley 150 Nguyễn Trãi, quận 1
- 37 Nguyễn Trãi street, District 1
- 77 Bùi Thị Xuân street, District 1
- 823 Nguyễn Trãi street, District 5.
- 189 Cống Quỳnh street, District 1
- Bánh Mì Phương Liên at 12 Nguyễn Huy Tự street, District 1
- Bánh Mì Lúa Mía at 175B Cao Thắng street, District 3
- Alley 191 Hai Bà Trưng street, District 3
- Bánh mì Tuấn Mập at 173 Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai street, District 1
- 358 Nguyễn Thị Minh Khai street, District 1
- 1 Nguyễn Thượng Hiền street, District 3
Best places to eat Bánh Mì in Hanoi:
- Bánh mì Trâm at crossroads of Đình Ngang street and Hàng Bông street, District Hoàn Kiếm
- Bánh mì Đình Ngang at 252 Hàng Bông street, Hoàn Kiếm district
- Bánh mì with beefsteak at 22 Hòa Mã street, Hai Bà Trưng district
- Bánh mì Thái Thịnh at 35 Thái Thịnh street, Đống Đa district
- Bánh mì Phố Huế at 118A Phố Huế street, Hai Bà Trưng district
- Bánh mỳ MasterChef at 27 Nguyễn Du street, Hai Bà Trưng district
- Bánh mỳ with Nam Neung (Vietnamese Pork skewer) at 31 Quang Trung street, Hoàn Kiếm district
- Bánh mỳ with Nam Neung at 69 Chùa Láng street, Đống Đa district
- Banh-Mee at 12 Đặng Tiến Đông street, Đống Đa district
- Bánh mì Thiên Sứ at Cửa Nam street, Hoàn Kiếm district
- Bánh mì Hiệu Lực at 326 Bà Triệu street, Hai Bà Trưng district
- Bánh mì Lãn ông at 20 Chả cá street, Hoàn Kiếm district
- 6/28 Hương Viên street, Hai Bà Trưng district
- Bánh mì with beef jerky at 44 Nhân Hòa street, Thanh Xuân district
- Bánh mì Cột Điện at 71 Đặng Văn Ngữ street, Đống Đa district
- Bánh mì Xuyên Việt at 294 Vũ Hữu Huân street, Thanh Xuân district
- Bánh mì Chú Cuội at 165 Xuân Thủy street, Cầu Giấy district
- Bánh mì Ô Long at 65 Hồ Đắc Di street, Đống Đa district
- Bánh mì Hiệu Lực at 326 Bà Triệu street, Hai Ba Trung district
- 3 Nguyễn Bỉnh Khiêm, Hai Bà Trưng
Best places to eat Bánh Mì in Nha Trang:
- Bánh mì Tuấn Mập at 128 Lê Hồng Phong street, Nha Trang
- Bánh mì Ba Lẹ at 102 Quang Trung street, Nha Trang
- Bánh mì Thiên Hòa at 76 Lý Thánh Tôn street, Nha Trang
- Bánh mì for vegetarian at 2 Trần Bình Trọng street, Nha Trang
7. The most simple recipe of Vietnamese Sandwich
- Light and crispy baguette;
- Pork pie or scrambled egg;
- Pate, mayonnaise;
- Pickled carrot and daikon, coriander, cucumber;
- Peppers, chili;
- Tomato sauce, soy sauce;
- Slice pork pie and cucumber;
- Slit the bread lengthwise, and then use a knife to hollow out the insides, making a trough in both halves;
- Spread the inside of the baguette with pate and mayonnaise;
- Drizzle in tomato sauce or soy sauce;
- Layer in the remaining ingredients;
- Close the sandwich and crisp up the bread in a toaster oven if necessary;
It’s all about Vietnamese Bread. Bánh Mì is a food that blends cuisine and culture. If you have chance to visit Ho Chi Minh city, don’t miss tasting Bánh Mì – one of the best street foods and you will understand why it’s so famous.
Would you like to drive around Ho Chi Minh city on motorbike with Vietnamese beautiful tour guide and eat the best Banh Mi? Let’s join our Saigon food tour!
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