Foreign Flavors

The Origins of: Bánh Mì

The french baguette, the pâté, a smear of cheese and coriander, cucumbers and carrots. A masterpiece in my eyes and a frequented meal by Vietnamese and foreigners alike. Although the term ‘Bánh mì” in Vietnamese means bread, the phrase sparks similar imagines in most minds (and stomachs).

A perfectly toasted elongated, warm dough. Baked to perfection and stuffed with the most fresh ingredients and meat or egg cooked in savory marinades, smothered in chili sauce, soy sauce, and the pie shaped single serving of Baby Bell cheese. Available in most modern bakeries in most sovereign nations nowadays, the sandwich is famous- and for good reason. I mean the word ‘bánh mì’ itself was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2011, its global. Fun Fact.

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Every bánh mì sandwich is different but they all require similar ingredients and that marvelous baked baguette. Depending on the region of Vietnam you are in, more vegetable and cheese options may be given. Ranging anywhere from 10,000 to 90,000 dong (44 cents USD to 4 dollars) and available from every street corner to high-end french and vietnamese restaurants sporadically placed throughout the larger cities, everyone can get their fix.

 

Where did it come from?

So, I guess this is pretty obvious. The French colonized Vietnam, or the then named Indochina from 1887 to 1954.  During that time many french influences were adopted in the region; architecture, style, and most importantly the culinary arts. The french baguette, pâté, jalapeño, cheese, and mayonnaise were introduced during this time period. The result: a fusion of cultures, a mix of ingredients, and a phenomenal taste.

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Although the French evacuated Vietnam in 1954, the ingredients made Vietnam their permanent address and built a long term impact on the food culture nationwide.

 

Who eats it?

Apparently, everyone and their grandma eats this. My friends and I may or may not be providing a large source of income to the bánh mì industry. The second bánh mì we had in country was at a place in Ha Noi, Bánh Mì 25 . It was packed full of foreigners and although it was delicious, it was nowhere near the goodness ingested at a small hole in the wall bánh mì stand where we had our first Vietnamese bánh mì experience. When I say ‘hole in the wall’ I literally mean hole in the wall, and in my humble opinion I say that every construction site should come with its own bánh mì stand, I’m just saying…and I’m right. This place had it all, and it was all great. Here, we saw many more Vietnamese patrons visit, much like the street stands and food trucks we sampled during our eleven day journey through three metropoli. Kids, teens, families, middle aged and old, men and women, everyone loves this sandwich. EVERYONE.

 

How is it made?

There are several versions of bánh mì, available for any palette and time of day. The main ingredient- the baguette, is a unique combination of rice and wheat flour unlike the traditional french style which uses strictly wheat. This simple combination of grains can be viewed on a larger, more symbolic scale of cultural blending and two worlds melding to create one bangin’ sandwich. The classic bánh mì, or bánh mì thịt nguội, the “special combo” is made with marinated pork belly, pork sausage, and headcheese (which is a weird looking coldcut, if you didn’t know…I had to look it up). Smeared with liver pâté, this is the most french style you can order. There are now multiple options, including chicken slices, tofu, cheese (that Baby Bell) or egg. Although the egg is largely eaten at breakfast, it is available all day and comes either scrambled or fried. #imdrooling.

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With fresh or pickled cucumber and carrots, white radish, salad and tomato, the sandwich makes a vegetarian swoon, it does. I’ve seen it. I was it, it was me. I recently just ate one that had onion, bell pepper, red cabbage, garlic, and MOZZARELLA CHEESE on it. Like, get outa here.

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I mean, guys, this sandwich is dope. And I’m telling you right now, I’m totally going to scarf down one for dinner, possibly two. I already scoped out a street vendor out here that will have that Baby Bell ready, a fried egg and all of the fresh veggies I want, all for about 15,000 dong. WHAT. A. DEAL.


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Thanks friends!

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