Eight Saigon banh mi variations worth the savor post-social distancing
With HCMC in the grips of a strict two-month social distancing order, many Saigoneers are craving for a delectable bite of banh mi.
The simple Vietnamese sandwich, a baguette stuffed with anything from grilled pork, cold cuts and cucumber slices to cilantro, pickled carrots, liver pate, and a swipe of mayonnaise, is arguably one of the first things you should try if you want a true taste of Vietnam.
Here are eight famous banh mi variations that have won acclaim from food bloggers.
Banh mi xiu mai trung muoi served with pork meatballs (xiu mai) and topped with salted egg yolk (trung muoi) is highly recommended by travel bloggers, stemming from a homemade recipe you can’t find anywhere else. Inside the freshly baked sandwich is one piece of roasted beef, two to three pieces of pork meatballstopped with protein-laden steamed salted egg yolk, along with layers of pork crackling. Don’t forget to put a little pickled daikon and carrots and fish sauce into the loaf to add flavor.
Banh mi chao is one served with a frying pan (chao) with egg, pate and sausage. But this is just the basic version. A wide variety of “fillings” are available for hungry diners to choose from. The dish is usually served right after it is cooked. Typically, a mixture of chili and soy sauce are added to the dish before it is eaten. The egg yolk combined with seasoning makes for a greasy, tasty sauce that a piece of crispy bread is dipped into.
At 37 Nguyen Trai Street in District 5, part of Saigon’s Chinatown, a vendor has been serving banh mi thit nuongwith grilled pork(thit nuong) from a pushcart for more than a decade.
Banh mi pha lau accompanied with a stew made of beef and pork entrails called pha lau (offal stew) is not a bad idea for Saigoneers, originating from China and imported to Saigon 100 years ago.
It is not difficult to find stalls serving banh mi cha ca with fried chopped fish cakes (cha ca), a popular breakfast dish. The bread is filled with grilled fish cakes and toppings like scallions, coriander, soy sauce, sliced chili peppers, or pickled daikon and carrots.
Banh mi kho bo served with beef jerky (kho bo) inside Da Kao Market in District 1 is not to be missed. Beef jerky is cut into smallerpieces and served in a loaf of bread along with laksa leaves, roasted peanut and spicy chili sauce. In some stalls, the owner makes a sour and sweet sauce as a bonus. Each typically costs VND20,000-25,000.
For many Saigoneers, bread served with roasted pork, banh mi heo quay, is not too strange. The pork is roasted with a thick layer of salt and spices. It is sliced and served on a freshly baked bread roll. The sandwich is then dressed with a combination of mayonnaise, pickled carrots and daikon, cucumbers, cilantro, and chives. If desired, sliced chili peppers can be added as a topping, making it very spicy.
Banh mi ca nuc is one served with fresh scad (ca nuc) from seafood markets. The fish would be stewed for many hours with coconut water and tomatoes based on varying recipes. Cooked fish are kept in a charcoal pot to keep it warm and reduce the fishy flavor. When a customer places an order, the fish is mashed into a loaf of bread smeared with mayonnaise, then topped with classic accompaniments like pickled carrots and daikon, coriander, sliced chili peppers, and a drizzle of spicy tomato sauce.
Photos by Lan Huong, Di Vy, Tam Linh