Banh Mi Vietnam: a Famous Worldwide Street Food

Originally from a dish of Western origin, the changes and unceasing creativity in popular Vietnamese bread – Banh mi – have made it identified and strongly marked on the world culinary map.

Banh mi Vietnam
Banh mi Vietnam |©Vietnamdrive

How to pronounce Banh Mi?

The correct writing of Banh mi in Vietnamese is Bánh mì or Bánh mỳ.

The word “banh mi” was officially added to the Oxford dictionary, confirming a proper noun: “Bread” – Banh mi is pronounced /ˈbɑːn miː/, meaning a sandwich consisting of a baguette, that is traditionally baked with both rice and wheat flour, filled with a variety of ingredients, typically including meat, pickled and fresh Vietnamese vegetables, and chili peppers.

This specific name has become a pride of the diners who love Vietnamese food.

History of Banh Mi Vietnam

Compared to other specialties of the S-shaped land, the bread originated from overseas. But the filling is very Vietnamese.

vietnamese bread
Vietnamese bread |©Vietnamdrive

At the beginning of the 19th century, the French brought the baguette to Gia Dinh (Saigon) to satisfy their culinary delights.

To create many delicious and hot loaves of bread to serve the needs of the upper class, they built the first brick bakery oven in Vietnam.

This French-origin bread quickly gained popularity. That time was when the Saigon people processed the baguette into typical Vietnamese bread with its length of only about 30-40 cm.

The closed structure of the bakery oven, allowing the steam to be retained, makes the baguettes softer inner while the outer shell is crispy. This characteristic also creates the unique identity of Vietnamese bread compared to the Western baguette.

But Vietnamese sandwiches were only really shaped when Mr. Hoa and Ms. Tinh opened a shop Hoa Ma (53 Cao Thang, Ward 3, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City), selling Banh mi in 1958.

banh mi hoa ma saigon
Banh Mi Hoa Hoa Shop | @heosoonam000

It is because Mrs. Tinh used to work for a ham company specializing in supplying products to French restaurants in Hanoi. When moving to Saigon, they opened a shop selling sandwiches with ham to serve local people.

Initially, the shop also served a foreign style of sandwiches with the ham on the plate, and the diners used knives and forks. But then, recognizing that not everyone had time to sit down to eat, the owners of Hoa Ma bakery shop added the fillings into bread loads for buyers to carry.

Development of Banh Mi in Vietnam

Today’s bread has become the well-known fast food of all people because of its diversity, convenience, and affordable price.

vietnamese banh mi
Vietnamese banh mi |©Vietnamdrive

Students and busy civil servants have liked the selling approach of Hoa Ma shop because they can bring bread easily.

Later, many meat sandwich shops began to appear in Saigon and have been maintained until today, such as Bay Ho bread, Hoang Hoa bread, and thousands of stalls selling all kinds of meat, canned fish, grilled pork, etc.

Living with time and life, bread has been present in all areas of VietnamIt is Vietnameseized to satisfy a variety of diners: The inside bread is thinner and softer, the crust is thickening, and the size of the cake is also smaller than 2-3 times, being convenient to carry.

There is no need for customers to park their vehicles to go into the shop. They do not need a seat, just wait around 5 or 10 minutes to buy some delicious sandwiches to take away.

In the morning, students can sit behind their parents’ motorbikes to eat bread to make it in time for school. Officers quickly eat bread for lunch, and workers can eat one in the evening for a hungry stomach.

The fast, compact, and customizable style of Banh Mi can knock down almost all other foods in the world.

All the flavor of the city in the filling of Vietnamese bread

Most people remember the first taste of Vietnamese bread when eating it. As soon as having the first bite, you are delighted by the crunchy crust and get the soft feeling like a cotton cushion inside, which is tightening because of butter, pate, and sauces.

banh mi in Vietnam
Plenty of ingredients inside Banh mi in Vietnam | ©Vietnamdrive

Specifically, various ingredients in the filling of Banh Mi include Char siu, ham, spring rolls, fried eggs, pork skin, chili, fish balls, Vietnamese fish sauce, and vegetables. However, each store has its own secret, creating a specific taste.

The rich filling portion will be balanced with a little sour taste of cucumbers, pickles, and popular Vietnamese herbs. All are covered with a magically crunchy crust, creating a tasty piece until the last bite.

Vietnamese bread has a perfect combination of flavors and textures: Salty, sweet, sour, spicy, crispy, chewy, and soft, being an incredible fusion.

In this S-shaped strip of land, bread can be found in any city, any street, from the ordinary quarter to the busy commercial centers, from the sidewalks to luxury hotels. Interestingly, you can find different versions and taste various flavors, carrying the culinary characteristics of each city and region.

Different flavors of Banh Mi in each region of Vietnam

You can easily find bread in any province on the map of Vietnam. The most interesting thing is that in each place, Banh Mi has its variations that make people enjoy the unique taste.

Banh Mi Hanoi

Banh mi Hanoi
Banh mi Hanoi | @nhsfoodgram

Banh Mi in Hanoi, for example, seems simpler than other places. You will hardly find a big bread full of meat and vegetables with so many ingredients in Hanoi. It is because people don’t like to eat that!

A load of traditional bread in Hanoi includes a little fragrant butter, liver pate, a little extra pork, ham, char siu, and a few slices of spring rolls. Vegetables inside this bread usually have coriander and cucumber. Also, the sauce will be traditional chili sauce, which is often used to eat Pho.

But the traditional Hanoi bread is still surprisingly delicious because its crunch is perfectly matched with the taste of meat and spices. Everything inside the filling is not redundant at all.

Banh Mi Hai Phong

Banh mi Hai Phong
Banh mi Hai Phong | @lenglengnguyen

Arriving in Hai Phong, you will be fascinated by the different versions. The tiny bread, about two-finger size, still makes people fall in love with the fatty pate that is sprinkled with a kind of chili sauce of Hai Phong.

The small bread is always baked hot. So, you will feel the crunchy crust, the soft, spicy of the kernel. When eating Banh Mi Hai Phong, people often order a dozen to taste.

Banh Mi Hoi An

hoi an bread
Hoi An Bread ©Vietnamdrive

In Hoi An, there are bread stalls that make international chefs have to be surprised. Banh Mi Hoi An has unique variations when the bread is medium-size with a crispy crust and thick inside.

Typically, the filling of Hoi An bread is diverse, covering around ten ingredients: ham, sausages, pork belly, pork barbecue, chicken, eggs, cheese, pate, char siu meat, and plenty of herbs. 

Also, the types of butter and sauces are prepared according to the special recipe of each bread shop. And the herbs of Tra Que village make bread in Hoi An more fragrant. Once eating it, they will want to taste it again.

Biting a loaf of bread rich and harmonious in tropical flavors, you will easily understand why Banh Mi Hoi An is so well-known. And it appears more and more in the different cities in Vietnam and abroad.

In Hanoi, Hai Phong, Hoi An, Da Lat, and Saigon, Vietnamese baguettes are not only normal dishes but also cover the cuisine and spirit of the locals in each area.

Banh Mi Da Lat

banh mi da lat
Banh mi Da Lat | @vandurrful

If you come to Da Lat to eat banh mi, you will find that the bread here is made a little thicker. People will serve Banh Mi with a cup of thick sauce and pork balls.

It means you will find a different style of eating the bread, not holding all the load. You need to break it and dip it in separate sauce.

The experience of eating bread in South Vietnam is different. Due to the favorable natural conditions, the Southern bread often adds a lot of vegetables: cucumber, white radish, carrot, pickled carrots, a few stalks of onions, cilantro, and a few slices of chili.

Banh Mi Saigon and the Southern bread

Banh Mi Saigon
Banh mi Saigon | @huynh_thanh_1408

When tasting meat bread in the South, you can get a crispy aroma, the sweetness of the flour, the fat of the butter, and the taste of meat, rolls, pate, fish balls, and canned fish.

All mixed with fresh vegetables set up a nice Banh Mi. Therefore, bread in the South can be a substitute for rice, becoming the main dish.

In Saigon – a land of the intersection of different Vietnamese cultures, bread is like the hot song of the local cuisine. Here, Banh Mi Saigon is not only a popular food but also a cultural feature, creating the diverse cuisine of the local needs.

Not only is meat bread with pickled vegetables and cilantro, but the Saigonese also have many more variations of bread: fried baguette, roasted pork bread, omelet baguette, char siu bread, fish-ball banh mi.

The typical feature of Saigon bread is the taste of openness like the diversity of flavor, enthusiasm like crunchy crust, and a lot of kinds of wet sauces.

Moreover, even you can find tasty bread on the streets in Saigon. It is easy to see a glass cabinet displaying ingredients, a charcoal oven to keep bread crunchy all the time, and another stove to fry eggs or keep char-siu warm. When you come to that cabinet, you can get a nice Saigon sandwich.

A journey conquers the world

Banh Mi is also famous as Pho in Vietnam, but the path of bread is probably a spiral. That is a journey of a foreign dish re-created by Vietnamese people in unique ways.

Then, Banh Mi follows Vietnamese people to travel around the world and becomes one of the most well-known Vietnamese street foods.

banh mi Vietnam
Banh mi Vietnam |©Vietnamdrive

The Vietnamese bread is honored and promoted by major international culinary media and experts, such as The Guardian, BBC, and chef Anthony Bourdain. 

Indeed, Banh Mi has a perfect combination of Western and Vietnamese cuisine. Banh Mi is very close to the sandwich but very sophisticated and mysterious, so Vietnamese bread is still famous in a separate way.

Today, everywhere with large Vietnamese communities, you will find at least one bakery, such as Boys Banh Mi in Toronto, Banh Mi Thi-Thi in Calgary in Canada, or Banh Mi Ba and Mr. Banh Mi in Prague, Czech Republic.

In Malaysia, there is a brand of bread called O Banh Mi, and it has become a favorite place for indigenous people. Also, Banh Mi Phuong Hoi An is available in Seoul, Korea.

In America, many Vietnamese people own famous banh mi shops, such as Banh Saigon in New York, Bun Mee in San Francisco, and the famous Lee’s Sandwiches chain.

Vietnamese people are constantly improving and giving birth to new variations to highlight the identity of Banh Mi Vietnam on the world culinary map.


Frequently asked questions about Banh Mi

How much can I pay for one Banh Mi?
Banh Mi with tasty fillings costs an average of 10,000 VND ~ 0.5 USD to 20,000 VND ~ 1 USD. However, you can find a set of Banh Mi in Saigon costing 50,000VND – 60,000VND.

What vegetables are put inside Banh Mi?
Banh mi uses many different kinds of Vietnamese vegetables. However, most people like to add coriander, hot mint, mint, and salad, adding the pickle of papaya and carrot.

What kind of meat is used for Vietnamese bread?
Pork is the most popular meat used with Vietnamese bread. The chef cooks the pork in various ways, including grilled, well-cooked, and steamed. Besides, chicken is the second meat for Banh Mi in Vietnam.

Is Banh Mi healthy?
In our opinion, it is almost yes, unless you cannot eat wheat flour. The good balance of Banh Mi comes from vegetables, meats, and wheat, creating healthy food for most diners.

Why is Banh Mi the best bread in the world?
Banh Mi has a crispy crust and soft inside, adding various ingredients. Specifically, its customizable features easily allow to make a suitable taste for each diner when sellers can add any ingredients as requested.


Conclusion

Over 150 years of appearing in Vietnam, whether old or new, various variations of Banh Mi have never disappointed culinary enthusiasts.

This tasty food follows the rich culinary style of Vietnam, giving rich cuisine to almost all locals and international tourists.

It is so exciting that you just need to get out with a few steps, you can find tasty Vietnamese bread. Everywhere in Vietnam, from the small alleys to the big restaurants, can give you flavorful bread with superly customizable ingredients.

So, when you travel to Vietnam, do not forget to stop at one local bread to taste the world-famous Banh Mi.

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    About the author

    The editorial staff of Vietnamdrive is a team of travel experts managed by Mr. Thom who has worked in tourism for 14 years. Trusted by thousands of tourists from all over the world.