Originally a dish of Western origin, but the quintessence and unceasing creativity in popular Vietnamese bread – Banh mi – has made it identified and strongly marked on the world culinary map.
How to pronounce Banh Mi?
The correct writing Banh mi in Vietnamese is Bánh mì or Bánh mỳ.
The word “banh mi” was officially added to the Oxford dictionary (https://www.lexico.com/definition/banh_mi), 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 private name becomes 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.
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 a length of only about 30-40 cm.
The closed structure of the bakery oven, allowing the steam to be retained, makes the baguettes more hollow, the soft 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.
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 becomes the well-known fast food of all people because of its diversity, convenience, and affordable price.
Students and busy civil servants have liked the selling approach of Hoa Ma shop because they can bring the bread easily.
Later, many meat sandwich shops have begun to appear in Saigon and had 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 in Vietnam. It is Vietnameseized to satisfy a variety of diners: The inside bread is thinner and softer, the crust is thickening, 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.
Inside Vietnamese bread keeps all flavor of the city
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.
Specifically, various ingredients in the filling of Banh Mi include: Char siu, ham, spring rolls, fried eggs, pork skin, chili, fish balls, fish sauce, and vegetables. However, each store has its own secret, creating a specific taste.
The rich portion of the kernel will be balanced with a little sour taste of cucumbers, pickles, and popular Vietnamese herbs. All are covered with a magically crunchy crust, creating the tasty piece until the last bite.
Vietnamese bread has a perfect combination of flavors and textures: Salty, sweet, sour, spicy, crispy, chewy, 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, taste various flavors, corresponding to the culinary characteristics of each city and region.
Different flavor of Banh Mi at each region in Vietnam
You can easily find bread in any province on a 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 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, simply because people don’t like to eat that!
Traditional Hanoi bread includes only a little fragrant butter, liver pate, a little extra pork, ham, char siu, a few slices of spring rolls. Vegetables with it usually cover only coriander, cucumber, and the sauce will be traditional chili sauce that 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
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
In Hoi An, there are bread stalls that make international chefs have to be surprised. Banh Mi Hoi An has its own unique variations when the bread has medium size with a very crispy crust and the thick inside.
Typically, the filling of Hoi An bread is extremely 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 Hoi An bread 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 popular. And it appears more and more in the different cities in Vietnam and abroad.
From Hanoi, Hai Phong to Hoi An, Da Lat, Saigon, the Vietnamese baguettes are not only a normal dish but also cover the culinary and the spirit of the locals in each area.
Banh Mi Da Lat
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 that you will find a different style of eating the bread, not holding all of the load, you need to break and dip it with separated sauce.
The experience of eating bread in South Vietnam is different. Due to the favorable natural conditions, bread in the South 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
When tasting a meat bread in the South, you can get a crispy aroma, the sweetness of the flour, the fat of the butter, the taste of meat, rolls, pate, fish balls, canned fish.
All mixing 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 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 walking 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 well-known Vietnamese street food.
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 cuisine and Vietnamese culinary. Banh Mi is very close to the sandwich but very sophisticated and mysterious, so the 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 is really to 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.
Over 150 years of appearing in Vietnam, whether old or new, various variations of Banh Mi have never disappointed culinary enthusiasts.
That attraction follows the rich culinary style in Vietnam, which attracts almost the locals and international tourists.
It is so exciting that you just need to get out with a few steps, you can find a tasty Banh Mi. Everywhere in Vietnam, from the small alleys to the big restaurants, can give you a 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.
And, always on the top list, Vietnamdrive recommends you to stop at Banh Mi Phuong in Hoi An (2B Phan Chu Trinh Street, Hoi An, Quang Nam, Vietnam) to queue to buy the tastiest Banh Mi in the world.