Banh mi- the new Vietnamese food obsession


There is one thing I always feel bothersome when reading about Vietnamese food written by foreign food bloggers: names of food. All the food names are translated into English and it automatically becomes nonsense or funny. “Banh mi” was translated into “Vietnamese baguette”. “Pho”, “bun”, “mi” or “mien” are all translated into noodle while they are totally different.


Even when it is hard to convert all Vietnamese words into English or other language completely, from deep down inside I really don’t want to see it that way. Look at food in the world. No-one calls Japanese sushi “fish and rice”. Thailand’s Tom Yum is never called “spicy soup” or “Thai soup”… Why we don’t just simple call pho “pho” and bun “bun” by their original names? I know it can be hard to pronoun for most non-Vietnamese but Vietnamese food should be the best with their original names.


Banh mi- a superman comes to the rescue


But recently I’ve seen a new trend of food bloggers, food lovers and travel addicts… are madly falling in love with Vietnamese “banh mi”. The best thing is they lovingly name it with the original name “banh mi”, not “Vietnamese baguette” or any other funny name. This pleases my mind a great deal. I truly believe that “banh mi” is so good that foreigners have to remember it with it very own name. They have to try saying it whenever they want to eat a true Vietnamese baguette. Recently I can see that banh mi is now taking the number one position of “pho” to be the most loved Vietnamese food to travelers worldwide.



Banh mi proudly represent Vietnam food culture



It’s hard to believe, even for me. Vietnam is a new kid on the block in tourism field. We’re only open to the world for the last 20 years now. And to show travelers worldwide the exceptionally delicious food of Vietnam we’ve been nominating “pho” as the most iconic Vietnamese food. “Pho” has been appearing everywhere, from guide books to travel blogs, from travel magazines to advertisement about Vietnam. It has become an icon, a must-try that you cannot miss when traveling Vietnam. But everything changes completely in about 2 years now.



All food bloggers and travel experts start to mention about banh mi when they write about Vietnamese food. Every traveler coming to Vietnam asks for banh mi. It becomes so popular that some food bloggers come to Vietnam with an urge to try the authentic Vietnamese banh mi. And I can even see banh mi restaurants reaching out to the world with shops in New York, London, Paris, Seoul, and Tokyo… Truly, this special dish has been making the world madly falling in love. It is a new obsession for food lovers whenever they think about Vietnamese food.



There are many different styles and forms. But all delicious!



As a food guide who has been helping foreigners discovering Vietnamese food for years, it is not a weird thing for me to see people are madly falling in love with banh mi. It shares a great similarity with sandwiches. (And who doesn’t love sandwiches?!). It is truly a new shining star when placed next to Cuba sandwich, Kebab or American footlong sandwich…



The love for banh mi can be explained with the result of a perfect interact with Western food culture and the essence of Vietnamese cooking. It has all characteristics of a modern food that any busy person would need. It is so close to Westerners yet contains all refined spices and savors from Asian food culture.



No matter how selective you are about food, banh mi will surely please your taste



I could never forget my childhood when Vietnam was still very poor. I was rarely given some money to get thing I want for breakfast. And in those lucky mornings when my mother gave me 500 VND (about 2 cents at that time) I rushed to the banh mi stall nearby to get my little self one. I liked banh mi so much that it even came into my dreams. In those days banh mi was so simple. There is just a small sized French baguette that has been baked crunchy. The magic woman then stuffed some chopped pork and mushroom and a leaf or two of coriander. And that made my whole day.  



I will remember the sound of the first bite for the rest of my life when it crunchy melted in my mouth. It is one the most happy sounds in my childhood. Nowadays I have chance to eat many different kinds of banh mi. But the simple ones I had when I was a boy are the best in my mind.



Queuing for banh mi in the past


Following the crunchy skin is the soft part of the baguette which absorbs the gravy and butter throughout. And we could help but to bite deeper to discover the wonderful fillings. I have to say the filling is the soul of this dish. Each stall has their own unique of filing to please your taste. Pork, beef, chicken, egg, pate’, “giò chả”, sausage…and many different kinds of herb and salad. You can order a regular set or just simply point out to have whatever you want in the filling. And I normally like to do some experiment by telling them to stuff in things I want.


Sometimes the combination comes out strange but most of the time I can be proud of my ability to combine food: D Banh mi is like a small meal with baguette, meat and lots of herbs and salads. They all combines perfectly to bring you a great pleasure of good smell to the nose, delicious tastes to the mouth and crunchy sound to the ears.



Different kinds of fillings and herbs you can choose



I remembered Gordon Ramsay- a devil chef from hell admitted that Vietnamese “hu tieu” was one of the best dishes he had in life. And now we have banh mi, a phenomenal dish that the world has to admire. It is not only the food but the whole culture of a nation is transferred to the world by a simply dish. We always say the shortest way to the heart is through our stomach. I always believe Vietnam doesn’t need an expensive advisement campaign but those simply things like this special dish to attract more and more travelers all over the world.



Making a banh mi



Hereunder are some in the known banh mi stalls in Hanoi you can try out:


  1. Banh mi thit cha : 19 Ly Quoc Su, Hoan Kiem
  2. Banh mi bi tet : 06 Hoe Nhai, Ba Dinh
  3. Banh mi sot vang: 525 Hang Bong, Hoan Kiem
  4. Banh mi thit xien nuong: 127 Hang Buom, Hoan Kiem
  5. Banh mi thap cam: 30 Dinh Ngang, Hoan Kim
  6. Banh mi 25, 25 Hang Ca


Follow our food blogger Joe on his street food tour to sample Banh mi and so many other street dishes in the Old Quarter of Hanoi.





Pham Tuyen