Sunday, August 30, 2009

Destination Vietnam #3: Bánh Mì

Bánh Mì from a Bakery in Sa Pa

As you can imagine, I encountered many Vietnamese sandwiches on my journey through the country. I discovered, much to my ordering difficulties, that bánh mì typically refers to only the baguette in Northern Vietnam and not an entire sandwich. I didn't have too many difficulties getting sandwiches in Saigon, but in Hanoi, I typically had to ask for bánh mì thịt nướng for bánh mì with grilled pork, or bánh mì patê for bánh mì with pate mixture.


So how are bánh mì different in Vietnam? Well for one thing, the ingredients vary much more widely. Here in the States, you can find the pate, but more commonly is grilled pork, chicken, or even char-siu, pickled carrots and daikon, cilantro, cucumber, jalepeños, and seasonings, which may include soy sauce, Maggi sauce, mayonnaise, etc. That makes up the sandwich at my all-time favorite bánh mì location in Oakland.

While in Vietnam, you'll commonly see carts on the streets with the Laughing Cow logo, indicating the use of Laughing Cow cheese spread in its sandwiches.

Besides Laughing Cow, I also saw bánh mì ladies (they are always women) use Camembert. Beyond the cheese spread, some sandwiches had sweet chili sauce, grilled chicken, pate, cucumbers, pickles, tomatoes, and other unidentifiable ingredients.

Our resident bánh mì lady

When we were in Hanoi, we actually frequented our bánh mì lady on the street quite often. Her sandwiches were simple, delicious, and satisfying. However, we were in a backpackers' touristy area and so she was selling them for about $1.75 USD. Around town though, they can be found for much less than that. Still, seeing her out on that corner day and night, even in torrential rains, shows just how hard it is to earn a living in that country. As for as sanitation, it's best a topic to try to keep out of your mind when eating on the street. The ingredients aren't refrigerated, she doesn't wash her hands, and you have no idea how old the food is. If this is all a major concern to you, get up early in the morning and buy a sandwich fresh to reduce chance of contamination. But as with all food in Vietnam, you'll miss out if you don't take chances.

Bánh mì from the bánh mì lady

If you're looking for a bánh mì location somewhat more trackable than "the woman on the corner," try Như Lan in District 1 of Saigon, near the river. I would hazard to guess that every taxi driver knows of this restaurant, but it wouldn't hurt to provide the name and address written down, given the difficulties of Vietnamese pronounciation. It's an open-air bakery, deli, and restaurant. There is a wide, relatively easily accessible menu. Given the layout, if you don't know what you'd like, you can always walk up and point to items in the display cases.

Nhu Lan
66 Ham Nghi, Ho Chi Minh City

Anyone know what's the deal with the Star of David?

Cucumbers, ham, tomato, onions, mayo, and spicy peppers



ispeakfoodtoo said...

love the post about the banh mi in vietnam. currently in vietnam and have noticed the variety of cha and combinations of bread fillers. the cheese flavor isnt my favorite i usually get banh mi pate-cha. and you're right on with the sanitation aspect of eating on the streets.

kevinEats said...

Did you grow up eating those triangular wedges of Laughing Cow cheese as well?

Aaron said...

Ispeakfoodtoo: Good to hear my entries are getting out to Vietnam!

Kevin: I do have fond memories of the Laughing Cow wedges. I think I'll get some next time I'm at the market.

Ravenous Couple said...

discovered your site on gastronomy--so glad you were able to visit Vietnam. We'll have to read more of your posts on it. We actually just posted our recipes for banh mi thit nuong, banh mi nem nuong, and pate. You're absolutely right though, the best foods in Vietnam are when you take some risks--ie. food stalls, carts, restaurants with plastic stools...

Kung Food Panda said...

I guess I've never tried banh mi with the laughing cow cheese. Also, with the banh mi lady not washing her hand, etc...I guess it all adds to the flavor =P Much like all the food stands across Asia, though @ $1.75/each, it sounds rather "expensive" for Vietnam.

lynn said...

i was recently in vietnam and never had a banh mi. i know, i know...

Right Way to Eat said...

Wow, I wish I could experienced on what you just had. Man, do I miss out.

BTW KFP, when are you going to put up your review of your Canadian adventure?