People talk about Vietnam as the land of amazing culinary culture with the finest appetizing has ever been found in the word. One of the most significant items contributed to that outstanding gastronomy is Banh mi, also known as Vietnamese sandwich. Banh mi is Vietnamese term for all kinds of breads, or baguettes more specifically. Banh mi was introduced to Vietnam during French colonization, and the term banh mi derived from “banh” (bread) and “mi” (wheat). Differ from most of Western counterparts, banh mi served in Vietnam are majorly single baguettes with thinner crust. Over the years, Banh mi in Vietnam has become a brand of the most delicious sandwich in the world.
Banh mi of Vietnam, unlike any other bread in the world, has special recipe of the mixture between rice flour and wheat flour. Vietnamese baguette is different from ones of France in which it has crunchy skin covering soft inner. Vietnamese banh mi is one of the symbols representing nation’s gastronomy, which many times appeared on famous magazines as voted food for one of the best street food in the world. Banh mi is popular item on street stalls; however, it is the whole sophistication of the acculturation in cuisine between the East and the West.
Vietnamese bread had not been known until the end of the war in 1975. During French colonialism, banh mi was eaten only with butter and pâté. At the time French army was exiled in 1954, Vietnamese have created their own banh mi by added pork, pickled vegetables including cucumber, carrot and herbs like cilantro (leaves of the coriander plant) making a very Vietnamese bread as known. After the French war ended in 1954, many of the Saigonans moved to the West, brought along the culture of banh mi. As a result, the popular banh mi found in foreign countries is the typical sandwich created with the recipes of the Southern Vietnam with the bigger version of baguettes with more herbs and veggies. The questions are: what if banh mi eaten outside of Vietnam still keeps its authenticity? Is it better? Or is there any difference? To find out, it is no way out of coming and taste banh mi in its own homeland, and trying different items in different regions to achieve the comprehensive assessment of what is call the best sandwich in the world.
In separated regions over the country, banh mi has been found with variations, and also the innovations in ways of enjoying baguettes. The classic version is banh mi with ingredients placed in the middle of the baguette. Ingredients here are native Vietnamese offerings namely cilantro, cucumber, pickled carrot and daikon, following the main character of porky goodness highlighted with slight kick of spice. The compound of every ingredient in a single sandwich has its own meaning and function: the pate adds moisture to the baguette, along with the sauce and pork gravy boosting the flavor, and as the result the baguette is also slightly toasted before hand to balance this immense humidity, finally veggies and herbs take the job of soothing the combination of all other salty elements.
The name of each sandwich is given based on the pork served such as “banh mi xa xiu” encompassing fatty char siu pork as the main substance followed by supplemental veggies and herbs. Another option is “banh mi thap cam”, also known as special combo made with various Vietnamese cold cuts namely sliced pork or pork bellies, pork sausage (pork pie), along with the liver pate and vegetables, and the maker would finish it off by pouring pork gravy on them. Aside from pork, egg is another main ingredient served in a baguette. Typically, a breakfast eaten widely in Vietnam including fresh baguette served with scrambled egg, or fried egg with onion sprinkled soy sauce and chili. There is rarer version of banh mi offered in some restaurants named “banh mi chay”, or vegetarian option made with tofu. This type of banh mi is barely found on street stalls, but mostly served in Buddhist temples during special religious events.
Whilst in Northern Vietnam, think Hanoi, banh mi is widely eaten with the classic version as mentioned, the Southern region seems to grow more innovations of Vietnamese sandwich with different ways of eating. Put aside how ingredients are mixed in a single baguette, because obviously each region will have its own banh mi bearing unique regional characteristics. Let’s talk about how banh mi is enjoyed. In many regions in the South, for instance Hue, Danang, Nha Trang, Saigon, banh mi is eaten the way in which baguette and ingredients are served separately. In this implementation, eaters would have some options such as “banh mi op la” including one to two baguettes brought out with a plate of scrambled egg along with pate or minced meat pouring with pork gravy, “banh mi chao” composed of the complex of sausage, beef or pork, mashed potato, and tomato sauce…
All in all, the key to a good banh mi lies, in fact, in the bread. No matter how good and delicious the ingredients are, the whole sandwich can be ruined by hard, crumbly log of bread. From the base of secret recipe in making baguette, Vietnamese has utilized their sophisticated taste to create pretty magical sandwich raising as the best sandwich in the world.