Banh mi is a Vietnamese term for all kinds of bread, or sometimes called Vietnamese sandwich. The word is derived from banh (bread) and mi (wheat). Bread, or more specifically the baguette, was introduced by the French during its colonial period. The bread most commonly found in Vietnam is a single-serving baguette, which is usually more airy than its Western counterpart, with a thinner crust.
The Vietnamese sandwich is a product of tasteful and harmonious cultural blend from French colonialism in Indochina, combining ingredients from the French (baguettes, pâté, jalapeno, and mayonnaise) with native Vietnamese ingredients, such as cilantro, cucumber, and pickled carrots and daikon.
In the famous blog of BBC Travel – United Kingdom, reporter David Farley had commented that the Vietnamese banh mi to be “the world best sandwich” after eating a roll from one of the most crowded streets of Hanoi, Vietnam’s northern capital city. Banh mi has helped Vietnam to appear in many international travel blogs and website as one of the best countries in the world for food, especially street food.
However, the world did not know about the existence of banh mi until the end of Vietnam War in 1975. Many immigrants to America, Europe, and Australia had brought with them the recipe of this one-of-a-kind sandwich, which explains how most the banh mi in these countries are usually stuffed with more vegetables and have a more southern Vietnamese taste to them.
The classic version of banh mi, bánh mì thịt nguội, which is the most commonplace version of a meat-filled sandwich, is made with various Vietnamese cold cuts, such as sliced pork or pork bellies, Vietnamese special pork sausage, and head cheese, along with the liver pâté and vegetables like carrot or cucumbers. You can find these rolls in corners on nearly all the streets of Vietnam, sold hot and wrapped in rustic newspapers.
In Vietnam, the most well-known versions of these sandwiches that could be referred to are “bánh mì xíu mại” – a baguette with crushed pork meatball, “bánh mì pâté chả thịt” – a baguette or sandwich with pâté, Vietnamese sausage and meat, usually pork bellies, since it is the most common kind of meat. Almost all of these varieties are innovations made by or introduced in Saigon and they are known as “Saigon-Style” banh mi.
Another option is the breakfast banh mi, with scrambled eggs served in a baguette. The version, which is eaten more widely for breakfast in Vietnam, contains fried eggs with onions, sprinkled with soy sauce, served on a fresh (and sometimes buttered) baguette. An ice cream sandwich is commonly sold on the street as a snack. It consists of scoops of ice cream stuffed inside a banh mi, topped with crushed peanuts.
Some restaurants also offer a vegetarian option of banh mi, made with tofu or seitan. In Vietnam, vegetarian sandwiches are rarely found on the streets. They are usually made at Buddhist temples during special religious events.
In the western hemisphere, especially in areas with substantial Vietnamese expatriate communities, the term is used to refer to a type of meat-filled sandwich on banh mi bread, found in Vietnamese bakeries. Unlike the traditional French baguette, the Vietnamese baguette is made with rice flour along with wheat flour. Typical fillings include steamed, pan-roasted or oven-roasted seasoned pork belly, Vietnamese sausage, grilled pork, grilled pork patties, spreadable pork liver pâté, pork floss, grilled chicken, chicken floss, canned sardines in tomato sauce, soft pork meatballs in tomato sauce, head cheese, fried eggs, mock duck, and tofu. Accompanying vegetables typically include fresh cucumber slices, cilantro (leaves of the coriander plant) and pickled carrots and daikon in shredded form. Common condiments include spicy chili sauce, sliced chili, mayonnaise, and cheese.
As you come to visit the beautiful Vietnam, do not miss the chance to try out this simply yet delicate with a modern twist that just speaks ”the best in the world”.