Together with “Pho” and “Ao Dai,” the words “Banh Mi” have officially appeared in the Oxford Dictionary because of their delicious tastes and popularity worldwide. This Vietnamese food guide will bring you more insights into the Banh Mi, its origin, variations, and where to buy this famous bread.
A Brief History of Banh Mi
Banh mi was first introduced to Vietnam during the French colonial period. It is a modification of the baguette, a French staple food in the 19th century. The baguette, paired with pork pâté, ham, cheese, and butter to serve only the French colonists at expensive restaurants and cafes, was still a luxury product to most Vietnamese.
When the locals learned how to make this food, the bread became a standard product, like other Western products such as condensed milk, coffee, and beer. The bakeries opened one after another in Saigon, some of which served the needs of the local class and became a hit, making Banh Mi the favorite breakfast of the Saigonese until now.
Banh Mi in Vietnamese Foods Culture
In Vietnam, besides famous dishes such as Com Tam (broken rice), Pho (beef noodle soup), and Banh Cuon (steamed rice rolls), Banh Mi is a typical Vietnamese breakfast that is convenient and ideal for people who have to go to work or study early in the mornings. That is why most vendors are takeaways without any chairs or tables for you to sit down.
Banh Mi is just a plain baguette or bread without any stuffing in Vietnamese. However, the Banh Mi with meat has grown in popularity worldwide, so the term is now also used to refer to a kind of sandwich.
What’s Inside a Vietnamese Sandwich
Below are the ingredients of the original “Banh Mi Thit”, meaning banh mi with meat, but can be improvised in many other variations.
In most Vietnamese markets, there is at least one traditional bakery, which you can easily find when visiting the local markets, especially in the morning when the bread is fresh out of the oven. Unlike the French baguettes made wholly from wheat flour, Banh Mi’s dough is a mixture of rice flour and wheat flour because wheat hardly grows in a tropical country like Vietnam. The length of the Banh Mi is shorter, and its crust is also more brittle than the original French baguettes.
Pâté is a spread made from the meat and liver of animals like pigs, cows, ducks, and chickens. In Vietnam, its main ingredient is chiefly the pig liver. Though there are ready-made options in many supermarkets or local markets, most local stallholders make this condiment themselves with their secret recipes.
Another crucial spread is the light and creamy egg yolk and cooking oil mixture. This mixture seems simple, but it is a golden star once you combine it with other ingredients.
Pork Sausage and Ham (Cha Lua)
Meat is the most critical ingredient. Therefore, it is a crucial factor to judge whether a Banh Mi is good or not. The Vietnamese often use the ham like the French used to have with their original baguettes. Let’s imagine you are grabbing a delightful Banh Mi and opening it to see what is inside. A layer of red ham slice is placed on the greens. When taking a bite, the shining fat and well-seasoned meat create a soft texture, contrasting with the crunch of vegetables like cucumber, cilantro, chili, pickled carrot, and daikon radish. They can also stuff Vietnamese pork sausage in the Banh Mi.
Vegetables and Pickles
Last, but not least, the Banh Mi would be incomplete without Vietnamese vegetables such as cucumber, pickled carrot, daikon radish, scallions, and cilantro. Not everyone is a fan of these ingredients, so you can ask the seller to leave them out, but it would be a lack of original flavors and texture.
The cucumber slices create a crunchy texture and freshness to balance with the fat and creamy mayonnaise. The cilantro gives a unique, herby, fragrant perfume. A little sour from pickled carrot and radish to keep you in for another bite. And the chili adds extra heat and vivid color to highlight the whole experience.
Depending on the store’s specialty or per customer’s requests, other stuffings can be found inside this Vietnamese sandwich:
- Pork floss
- Chopped peanuts
- Soy sauce
- Chilli sauce
Banh Mi Variations
Banh Mi Thit (Sausage and Ham)
The sellers often cut open the bread on one side, have a good spray of soy sauce on one side, spread the mouth-drooling pâté and mayonnaise on another, put cucumbers slice lining up along with the cilantro, pickled carrot and radish, and chili, and then place the main stars, sausage, and ham, on top of them. This Banh Mi is the one that most people buy because it is affordable, delicious, and easy to eat on the go.
Price: VND 15,000+
Banh Mi Cha Ca (Fried Fish Patty)
Instead of pork, fried fish meat is put inside the Banh Mi with layers of mayonnaise and vegetables. The taste of Banh Mi Cha Ca is as tasty as the original. It might sound like a bizarre combination, but the chewy fish patty and its saltiness would amaze you after the first bite.
Price: VND 15,000+
Banh Mi Op La (Sunny-Side-Up)
There is a little difference in how Vietnamese enjoy the sunny-side-up sandwich. While Westerners plate the eggs on the dish and eat the bread separately, the Vietnamese put the fried egg inside the bread and drizzle some chilly sauce, crushed pepper, and sliced cucumber and greens on top. Then, you can enjoy all the ingredients in one bite and feel the runny egg yolk soaking in the soft white bread.
Price: VND 10,000 – VND 15,000
Banh Mi Xiu Mai (Meatballs)
Instead of ham or sausage, the Vietnamese-Chinese sellers often cook pork meatballs with tomato sauce to make the flavor soaked in the Vietnamese baguette. The classic combination of soft meat with a bit of heat from the black pepper and tangy sauce gives a little twist by putting it in a loaf of bread, which you should try.
Price: VND 15,000 – VND 20,000
Banh Mi Ca Moi (Canned Sardines)
Canned sardines in tomato sauce are familiar processed foods to most Vietnamese families. The sardine and tomato sauce is usually mixed with onion slices, soy sauce, and ground pepper. The fish is now good with a hot rice bowl or Banh Mi.
Price: VND 15,000+
Banh Mi Heo Quay (Roasted Pork)
Banh Mi Heo Quay is also stuffed with cucumber, cilantro, pickles, and chili, but the roasted pork is used instead of sausage and ham. The smell and the crispy skin of the roasted pork go perfectly well with a freshly baked loaf of bread.
Price: VND 20,000+
Famous Banh Mi Stores in Saigon
Address: 26 Le Thi Rieng Street, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1
Opening hours: 2:30 PM – 11 PM
Known as one of the most expensive stalls in Saigon, their brand name is well-known to the Saigonese and foreign visitors. Throughout opening time, many people come here and wait in line. Although each piece is almost US$ 2, which is quite expensive, it is a worth-to-try experience for people who love Vietnamese street foods. Moreover, because of the unique flavor of their pâté, we recommend you come here to enjoy the best Banh Mi in Saigon.
51 Cao Thang Street, District 3
Opening hours: 7 AM – 10 AM
The founder of this brand used to work in a cold-cuts company that supplied meat products to French restaurants in Hanoi. When she and her husband moved to Saigon, they decided to run a Banh Mi stall to serve the locals. In 1958, the store opened, becoming the oldest Banh Mi stall in Saigon. At first, they also served customers with Vietnamese baguettes and ham like other French-style restaurants. However, most of their customers were workers, students, and officers, so they couldn’t spend much time at the stall to enjoy Banh Mi in the morning rush. The owner thought adding ham, grilled pork, and pâté inside the Vietnamese baguette would be more convenient and let customers take it away to save time. They are still serving in both styles, takeaways, and sitting at the stalls adjacent to the streets, eating from a sizzling hot pan.
Banh Mi Thit Nuong 37 Nguyen Trai
37 Nguyen Trai Street, District 1
Opening hours: 4 PM – 9 PM
This address is just of a regular street food vendor, but most locals living in Saigon know about this stall. The specialty of the store is the flavorful BBQ round pork patties. It is also one of the popular Banh Mi stalls in Saigon.
185K Cong Quynh Street, District 1
197A Nguyen Trai Street, District 1
Opening hours: 6 AM – 10 PM
68 Ham Nghi Street, District 1
Opening hours: 5 AM – 8 PM
Summing up Our Guide to the Banh Mi
Banh Mi is now not just a Vietnamese baguette or a variation of the French baguette but is recognized as a significant dish in Vietnamese cuisine. You could only taste and experience the authentic version and see the diversity in Vietnam. Have you ever tried the famous Banh Mi?
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