Nothing can reflect the culture of a country better than the country’s street food. Street food is attached closely to the life of the laborers, the majority of the population who create the spirit and the pace of life of a nation. Banh mi is one of Vietnam’s best street foods. If you visit Vietnam for the first time, you can review Vietnam culinary tours to understand more about this country.
Up until recently, when referring to Vietnamese cuisine, we always consider Pho as the symbol of it. However, silently and strongly, Banh mi is becoming more and more famous to foreigners from all over the world.
In Vietnamese cuisine, Pho represents a precious dish enjoyed by many, but Banh mi is a fast dish appearing in the lives of Vietnamese everywhere, everyday. Nevertheless, this simple dish has soon spread to five continents. Let’s take a look at what’s happened since Banh mi first appeared in Vietnam, to the time it was recognized by the world, and you will feel that Banh mi is really the symbol of Vietnamese characteristics.
Banh mi - the best street food (Source: Internet)
History of Banh Mi
Banh mi first came to Vietnam through French soldiers during the French colonization with the name ‘baguette’, but Vietnamese Banh mi usually has a fluffier texture and crispier crust than the French baguette due to the baking tools and techniques used. In the 1860s, when France laid their first steps in Vietnam to start their invasion, the bread made from wheat flour also arrived in Vietnam. The original French baguette had a thin and long shape, the crust was not crispy and the core was thicker. At that time, a baguette was an expensive dish, which was only served to the upper class or French, because wheat could not be planted in Vietnam due to the tropical weather and imported wheat flour was very expensive. Nevertheless, when World War I began a lot of French had to go back home for the war and the price of French food suddenly decreased. Vietnamese could eat these foods which they did not have the chance to before. The baguette was one of them, and when Vietnamese tried the baguette they remade it by adding rice flour to the ingredients, which is always available in this agricultural country, made it shorter and baked it in a different way. These changes made Banh mi the flavor it is today which is much different from the baguette. Besides, Vietnamese also have another name for the new baguette: “Banh mi”.
Baguette of French in Saigon (Source: Internet)
Banh mi of Vietnamese in Saigon (Source: Internet)
The Modern Banh Mi
French baguettes were served in a classical style with bacon, ham, pâté, butter and cheese put separately in dishes. In the early period, Vietnamese also made Banh mi, but they still followed the way in which French ate their baguette. The modern, famous Banh mi was really defined when Hoa Ma Store of Mr. Ngoc appeared. Mr. Le Minh Ngoc and Mrs. Nguyen Thi Tinh, the owners of the very first Banh mi store in Saigon at that time, were Hanoian people. They used to work in a French bakery in Hanoi, so they opened their own store named Hoa Ma (the name of a village in Hanoi) in Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street (district 3, HCMC) and then moved to 53 Cao Thang Street after two years. Finding that eating Banh mi the classical way was too complex, they invented a new way by putting all the pâté, ham, bacon into the core of Banh mi, adding some herbs and sauce or chili. This new kind of Banh mi was supported by a large number of Saigon people, so their store was crowded from opening to closing time. Regarded as the center of the Banh mi revolution, many other stores learned from Hoa Ma and the recipe was spread widely which created the famous Banh mi we know and love nowadays.
Although modern people love the convenience of modern Banh mi, some of them want to enjoy French style Banh mi in a luxury restaurant by luxury culinary tours Vietnam.
Banh mi Hoa Ma (Source: Internet)
Banh mi thap cam (mixed fillings Banh mi) (Source: Internet)
Banh Mi Across S-shaped Country
After the early days of being favored by most Saigonese, Banh mi was rapidly loved and used daily by Vietnamese in all regions. Let’s take a look at Vietnam culinary tours to explore the variety and variations of Banh mi in different regions of this nation. There are a lot of Vietnam culinary tour packages in many provinces and areas for you and your fellow travellers to choose from. Firstly, Ho Chi Minh City is the hometown of Banh mi. HCMC is where there are most kinds of Banh mi such as Banh mi with dry beef, Banh mi with shredded chicken, Banh mi thap cam (mixed fillings), Banh mi Pha lau (Banh mi with a mix of cooked pig’s ear, organ, tongue, cucumbers), Banh mi with fried mussels, Banh mi with Cha ca (fried fish). The variety of Banh mi enjoyed by people here is just because they are easygoing and always ready to accept new things.
Mussels Banh mi (Source: Internet)
Banh mi Pha lau (Source: Internet)
Next, Hanoi Banh mi is something you can’t help trying. Banh mi thit xien (Banh mi with meat skewers) which is sold onevery street in Hanoi is a must-try street food when you visit the capital city of Vietnam. You can easily find a woman with a coal stove grilling fragrant meat skewers, and that smell will cause you to run to her immediately to buy a couple of Banh mi. Especially, during these winter days , eating a hot Banh mi with three meat skewers and drinking a hot cup of coffee is the best way to feel and enjoy the early cold of Hanoi.
Banh mi with meat skewers (Source: Internet)
With my six years’ experience of living in Hanoi, I can recommend for you some of the best addresses to enjoy the tastiest Banh mi in this city. When you first come to Hanoi, you must visit Ta Hien Street at night at least once to enjoy the most noisy and crowded street in the Old Quarter. Unlike the atmosphere at night on Ta Hien, in the morning the street is more peaceful and quiet. At number 3 there is a famous Banh mi shop called Banh mi Nga. The special characteristics of this shop are all the ingredients like pâté, ham, Cha, egg fried in a hot pan with oil, which are then served on a dish to customers with Banh mi on the side.
Another place you can eat an excellent Banh mi is Banhmi25 at Hang Ca Street. The owner of this store is a young man, and when he has free time, he loves to talk to his customers about his love of Hanoi and Vietnamese Banh mi. You shouldn’t skip this address if you join Vietnam culinary tours.
Banh mi Nga, Ta Hien Street (Source: Internet)
Banh mi 25, Hang Ca Street (Source: Internet)
The port city of Vietnam - Hai Phong is well-known for its Spicy Banh mi (Banh mi Cay). The Spicy Banh mi there is a narrow one with the fillings being dried pork, pâté and chili. After putting all the fillings inside the Spicy Banh mi is heated till it becomes crunchy, before giving it to the customer. Another name of Spicy Banh mi is Stick Banh mi (Banh mi que).
Banh mi cay in Hai Phong (Source: Internet)
When you arrived in the city of flowers, Da Lat, don’t forget to enjoy Banh mi xiu mai (meatballs). Because the weather of this city is cold all year the cuisine here is always hot and spicy. Banh mi is heated and eaten together with a bowl of hot xiu mai and its special soup. A famous store for you to get this delicious Banh mi is No. 26 Hoang Dieu, Da Lat city.
Banh mi xiu mai in Da Lat (Source: Internet)
The final destination on Vietnam culinary tours to enjoy another kind of Vietnamese Banh mi is Nghe An - the hometown of President Ho Chi Minh. In this province, you can see cooked eel stores everywhere, and the specialty here is Banh mi with eel soup. The eel soup is cooked with the flavors of this north-central region of Vietnam. It is always hot and spicy with chili and pepper, the Banh mi is heated or fried to be crunchy and bought by customers later. You can add scallions, lime and garlic vinegar into your soup to have more delicious meal.
Banh mi with eel soup in Nghe An (Source: Internet)
Vietnamese Banh mi conquers the world
Banh mi has become the spirit and symbol of Vietnamese through the eyes foreigners. We can see Banh mi stores on a lot of streets when we travel in Europe. An overseas student can also taste the flavor of their homeland in a Banh mi store in America. A lot of Banh mi carts appear in many famous travel destinations around South East Asia like Thailand and Malaysia. Nowadays, Banh mi is so famous that you only need to search “banh mi” on Google and you will see many vloggers, food bloggers, even famous news networks like BBC and CNN also praise Banh mi as the best street food with a very long and whole-hearted post. A lot of recipes showing how to make Vietnamese Banh mi are translated in various languages too. There are multiple Banh mi stores in many countries such as: Banh mi Sai Gon (New York), Bun mee (San Francisco), Bánh mì boys (Toronto), Mr. Bánh Mì (Prague), Lee’s Sandwiches (the South of US). The first reason those stores opened was to serve the Vietnamese community in that country, but they were quickly accepted and loved by local people there. Maybe after trying Banh mi from the above list, you will really want to visit Vietnam and join the Vietnam culinary tours and travel to know more and more about this country.
Bunmee - a Banh mi shop in San Francisco (Source: Internet)
Mr. Banh mi in Prague (Source: Internet)
The wonderful thing here is not only Banh mi becoming famous, but also the culture and lifestyle of the whole nation is portrayed by this simple dish. No need for any advertising campaigns, no need for anything bigger, just a small image of Banh mi is perfect enough to attract friends from all over the world to visit Vietnam. “The shortest way to reach someone’s heart is through the stomach”. And the shortest way to explore one’s country is through its food.