What is banh mi?
Banh mi (pronounced “ban mee”) means bread (banh) made from wheat (mi): in other words, a baguette. But that doesn’t mean that you’ll eat a dry piece of wheat bread when you order it. As a dish, banh mi is a sandwich with toppings.
These single-person sandwiches are lighter inside than French baguettes. This is because rice flour is added to the wheat flour so that the sandwiches have a thinner crust that’s easy to bite through.
Vietnamese eat banh mi at all times of the day and usually buy them from specialised street food vendors. They make a great breakfast or lunch, replacing a ham sandwich, for example, and also as a perfect savoury snack.
The dish began very simply, at the beginning of the twentieth century, when Vietnam was still a colony of France and the French left their mark on Vietnamese food. Banh mi was then no more than a French baguette with pate, and resembled the simple sandwiches that people ate in Paris. The Vietnamese added their own accents and turned banh mi into a fusion dish that is nowadays eaten all over the world.
How to make banh mi
A special banh mi sandwich is slightly hollowed, spread with mayonnaise or butter and sprinkled with bouillon, soy sauce or tamari. This is often filled with meat, but all kinds of variants are possible (see below).
As well as the meat, the filling includes vegetables. Chilli pepper, coriander leaf and cucumber are loved, as well as sweet and sour pickled vegetables in all colours of the rainbow. Do Chua, a pickle made with daikon and carrot, is a favourite. This sweet and sour element is crucial for a good banh mi and ensures a crisp freshness.
banh mi thit ngoi, a.k.a. banh mi dac beet (special): with homemade chicken liver pate and sliced meats
banh mi thit nuong: with grilled (pork) meat
banh mi Xiu Mai: with meatballs
banh mi ga: with grilled chicken
banh mi cep cem, with scoops of ice cream (sometimes four!) and chopped peanuts
There is a vegetarian version, the banh mi chay, topped with tofu or seitan.
How to eat
Cut the roll once and serve, or eat on the go. On the road, on the street, in a taxi; there are no rules.