Let me ask you guys a question: Are there any words of your own language that cannot be translated into English but go directly into Oxford Dictionary? If yes, they must be the specialties which are unique to your country, must be your people’s great pride and must also enjoy worldwide popularity, right? For Vietnam, those specialties are ao dai, pho and banh mi. The former is Vietnamese traditional costume while the two latter words are Vietnamese signature cuisine. Besides pho – the special noodle soup already famous with lots of restaurant chains around the world, banh mi is also an absolutely must-try dish when it comes to Vietnamese cuisine!
Banh mi literally means bread, specifically the baguette that is baked with rice flour, wheat and butter; but in Vietnamese cuisine, it refers to the type of meat-filled sandwich captured in the above photo. Dating back to the beginning of 20th century, it was originally brought to Vietnam by French people during the colonial period. Those old days, banh mi was the combination of ingredients from France like pâté (spreadable pork liver) and native Vietnamese ingredients such as gio, cha (Vietnamese sausage), cucumber, pickled carrots and coriander. Since then, banh mi became a popular breakfast course sold by vendors on the pavement or in small valleys.
Nowadays, there are many varieties of banh mi with different ingredients that cater for special needs of the customers. Generally speaking, a piece of banh mi is usually made up from three main ingredients: meat, vegestables and accompany sauce, which may greatly vary depending on the desired tastes. While vegestables mainly include fresh cucumber slices, coriander leaves and pickled carrots; common accompanying sauce may be spicy chili sauce, tomato sauce, mayonnaise or each region’s special seasoning sauce. Meat is the ingredient that has the most varieties, and different types of banh mi are also named after this main ingredient. There can be steamed, pan-roasted or oven-roasted pork, Vietnamese sausage, grilled (barbecue) pork, grilled chicken, grilled beef, meatballs fried eggs, and pork floss as the fillings for banh mi. Depending on your taste, you can have only one type of meat or diffrent varieties in one banh mi.
In addition to the traditional type of banh mi with the long baguette and fillings inside, nowadays we have come up with some other ways to enjoy this delicious dish, including the “pan sandwich” and “tiny sandwich”
With “pan sandwich”, instead of having fillings inside the baguette, you can now enjoy the bread and other ingredients separately. For a big pan of meat, sausage, egg, pate and sauce like this, you can even eat up to 2 baguettes, enough for a decent lunch with only $2 approximately.
If you want to try as many tastes as possible, this tiny banh mi can be a good choice. It has the size of one-third as the normal baguette, so you can have nice experience tasting different types without being full.
These days, banh mi is getting more and more popular with people around the world for being one of the most delicious sandwiches, or as David Farley commented on BBC Travel, “a magical sandwich”. In South Korea, this Vietnamese cuisine is also gaining in popularity among Korean people. Last October, I had the chance to participate in Vietnamese culture day in Korea as a volunteer to make banh mi for both Vietnamese and Korean customers. I was very happy to see Korean people’s favorable reactions towards this specialty, and even happier to be able to introduce Vietnamese cuisine to the world.
So are you guys ready to taste banh mi? Come to Vietnam and experience this amazing sandwich!
David Farley (2014). Is the banh mi the world’s best sandwich. BBC Travel. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20141003-is-the-banh-mi-the-worlds-best-sandwich
By Nguyen Nguyet Minh, ASEAN Correspondent from Vietnam