When we finally reached Vietnam after three weeks in Southeast Asia, our taste buds were long programmed to indulge in as many bánh mì sandwiches as possible. As ubiquitous as hot dog carts in New York City, bánh mì stands are present on nearly every block, and most specialize in different meat fillings. The most obvious is the standard version known best to Westerners, made with pickled vegetables, hot chili peppers, and cilantro. Yet the sandwich reflects its French influences (from 19th century colonialism) with pâté, mayonnaise, and the quintessential baguettes that house the delectable fillings.
We met our first bánh mì in Chau Doc, after disembarking the boat from Cambodia, and the little cart outside our hotel beckoned us immediately, though we did snicker at the name:
Dung is a family name, and this cart specialized in the pâté-based sandwich with a few slices of cold cuts (the tan rolls stacked in the window above). Each sandwich was wrapped in a sheet of newspaper and meant for immediate consumption. Though the vendor asked me if I wanted hot peppers, he put only two slices on my sandwich...and after a few bites, I actually took one out to save my taste buds from becoming charred husks:
See that green thread of pepper in the foreground? That was like eating lava, with the pepper's capsicum quickly spreading through my mouth like a flood of heat and pain. Yet within five minutes, the heat had dissipated almost completely!
The next day in Ho Chi Minh City, we met up with Barbara, co-founder of Saigon Street Eats, for a walking tour of markets titled "The Pho Trail." In addition to fabulous pho and other delectables, we enjoyed what Barbara said was the best roast pork bánh mì in Saigon. We eagerly took her word for it as the tender, saucy pork set off fireworks of glee in our mouths:
Later, we took a thrilling motorbike trip through the city with Duy, Sandie & Huong of Back of the Bike Tours. Chris rode on the back of Duy's bike, Amy was with Sandie, and we sped through the streets with 100,000 other Saigonese on motorbikes. Huynh Hoa was our destination for what Duy called the best bánh mì in the city. This monster had everything in it, including pâté, ham, five different cold cuts, and shredded pork:
One fact that we immediately noticed was that the baguettes were of a much higher quality than we've ever experienced, and they were much lighter than loaves that we eat in the States. Duy told us that Vietnamese baguettes are made with rice flour in addition to wheat flour, which makes them much less heavy than their Western counterparts:
We thoroughly enjoyed every bánh mì, but the Huynh Hoa special was easily the best of all. As with all sandwiches, however, it all depends on the bread, and bakers in Vietnam are truly masters of their art. Special thanks to our amazing guides Barbara, Duy, Sandie & Huong for all of their help!