|Alternative names||Vietnamese sandwich|
|Place of origin||South Vietnam|
|Region or state||Saigon|
|Main ingredients||Vietnamese baguette (also bánh mì)|
Bánh mì or banh mi (/
A typical Vietnamese sandwich is a fusion of meats and vegetables from native Vietnamese cuisine such as chả lụa (pork sausage), coriander leaf, cucumber, and pickled carrots and daikon combined with condiments from French cuisine such as pâté along with jalapeño and mayonnaise. However, a wide variety of popular fillings are used, from xíu mại to ice cream. In Vietnam, sandwiches are typically eaten for breakfast or as a snack; they are considered too dry for lunch or dinner.
The baguette was introduced to Vietnam in the mid–19th century, when Vietnam was part of French Indochina, and became a staple food by the early 20th century. During the 1950s, a distinctly Vietnamese style of sandwich developed in Saigon, becoming a popular street food. Following the Vietnam War, Overseas Vietnamese popularized the bánh mì sandwich in countries such as the United States.
In Vietnamese, the word bánh mì is derived from bánh (which can refer to many kinds of food, including bread) and mì (wheat). It may also be spelled bánh mỳ in northern Vietnam. Taken alone, bánh mì means "bread", but is understood to be the Vietnamese baguette. Via synecdoche, it may also refer to a sandwich, with the term bánh mì kẹp being used to disambiguate. In particular, bánh mì often refers to the sandwiches made on Vietnamese baguettes, which may be called bánh mì Sài Gòn, after the city in which they were popularized. However, even in Vietnam, "a bánh mì for breakfast" implies a meat-filled sandwich for breakfast, not just bread.
A folk etymology claims that the word bánh mì is a corruption of the French pain de mie, meaning soft, white bread. However, bánh or its Nôm form 餅 has referred to rice cakes and other pastries since as early as the 13th century, centuries before French contact.
The word bánh mì, meaning "bread", is attested in Vietnamese as early as the 1830s, in Jean-Louis Taberd's dictionary Dictionarium Latino-Annamiticum. French colonists introduced Vietnam to the baguette, along with other baked goods such as pâté chaud, in the 1860s, when Vietnam was part of French Indochina. Northern Vietnamese initially called the baguette bánh tây, literally "Western bánh", while southern Vietnamese called it bánh mì, "wheat bánh". Nguyễn Đình Chiểu mentions the baguette in his 1861 poem "Văn tế nghĩa sĩ Cần Giuộc". Due to the price of imported wheat at the time, French baguettes and sandwiches were considered luxury items. During World War I, an influx of French soldiers and supplies arrived. At the same time, disruptions of wheat imports led bakers to begin mixing in inexpensive rice flour (which also made the bread fluffier). As a result, for ordinary Vietnamese to enjoy French staples such as bread became possible. Many shops baked twice a day, because bread tends to go stale more quickly in the Vietnamese climate. Baguettes were mainly eaten for breakfast with some butter and sugar.
Until the 1950s, sandwiches hewed closely to French tastes, typically a jambon-beurre moistened with a mayonnaise or liver pâté spread. The 1954 Partition of Vietnam sent over a million migrants from North Vietnam to South Vietnam, transforming Saigon's local cuisine. Among the migrants were Lê Minh Ngọc and Nguyễn Thị Tịnh, who opened a small bakery named Hòa Mã in District 3. In 1958, Hòa Mã became one of the first shops to sell bánh mì thịt. Around this time, another migrant from the North began selling chả sandwiches from a basket on a mobylette, and a stand in Gia Định Province (present-day Phú Nhuận District) began selling phá lấu sandwiches. Some shops stuffed sandwiches with inexpensive Cheddar cheese, which came from French food aid that migrants from the North had rejected. Vietnamese communities in France also began selling bánh mì.
After the Fall of Saigon in 1975, bánh mì sandwiches became a luxury item once again. During the so-called "subsidy period", state-owned phở eateries often served bread or cold rice as a side dish, leading to the present-day practice of dipping quẩy in phở. In the 1980s, Đổi Mới market reforms led to a renaissance in bánh mì, mostly as street food.
Meanwhile, Vietnamese Americans brought bánh mì sandwiches to cities across the United States. In Northern California, Lê Văn Bá and his sons are credited with popularizing bánh mì among Vietnamese and non-Vietnamese Americans alike through their food truck services provider and their fast-food chain, Lee's Sandwiches, beginning in the 1980s. Sometimes bánh mì was likened to local sandwiches. In New Orleans, a "Vietnamese po' boy" recipe won the 2009 award for best po' boy at the annual Oak Street Po-Boy Festival. A restaurant in Philadelphia also sells a similar sandwich, marketed as a "Vietnamese hoagie".
Bánh mì sandwiches were featured in the 2002 PBS documentary Sandwiches That You Will Like. The word bánh mì was added to the Oxford English Dictionary on 24 March 2011. As of 2017, bánh mì is included in about 2% of U.S. restaurant sandwich menus, a nearly fivefold increase from 2013.
A bánh mì sandwich typically consists of one or more meats, accompanying vegetables, and condiments. Common fillings include steamed, pan-roasted or oven-roasted seasoned pork belly, Vietnamese sausage, grilled pork, grilled pork patties, spreadable pork liver pâté, pork floss, grilled chicken, chicken floss, canned sardines in tomato sauce, soft pork meatballs in tomato sauce (xíu mại), head cheese, mock duck, and tofu. Accompanying vegetables typically include fresh cucumber slices, cilantro (leaves of the coriander plant) and pickled carrots and white radishes in shredded form (đồ chua). Common condiments include spicy chili sauce, sliced chilis, Maggi seasoning sauce, mayonnaise, and Laughing Cow cheese.
As with Western sandwiches, a wide variety of popular bánh mì fillings are used. A typical bánh mì shop in the United States offers at least 10 varieties.
The most popular variety of Vietnamese sandwich is bánh mì thịt, thịt meaning "meat". Bánh mì thịt nguội (also known as bánh mì pâté chả thịt, bánh mì đặc biệt, or "special combo") is made with various Vietnamese cold cuts, such as sliced pork or pork belly, chả lụa (pork sausage), and head cheese, along with the liver pâté and vegetables like carrot or cucumbers.
Other varieties include:
- Bánh mì bì (shredded pork sandwich) – shredded pork or pork skin, doused with fish sauce
- Bánh mì chà bông (pork floss sandwich)
- Bánh mì xíu mại (minced pork meatball sandwich) – smashed pork meatballs
- Bánh mì cá mòi (sardine sandwich)
- Bánh mì pa-tê (pâté sandwich)
- Bánh mì xá xíu or bánh mì thịt nướng (barbecue pork sandwich)
- Bánh mì chả lụa or bánh mì giò lụa (pork sausage sandwich)
- Bánh mì gà nướng (grilled chicken sandwich)
- Bánh mì chay (vegetarian sandwich) – made with tofu or seitan; in Vietnam, usually made at Buddhist temples during special religious events, but uncommon on the streets
- Bánh mì chả cá (fish patty sandwich)
- Bánh mì bơ (margarine sandwich) – margarine and sugar
- Bánh mì trứng ốp-la (fried egg sandwich) – contains fried eggs with onions, sprinkled with soy sauce, sometimes buttered; served for breakfast in Vietnam
- Bánh mì kẹp kem (ice cream sandwich) – contains scoops of ice cream topped with crushed peanuts
In regions of the United States with significant populations of Vietnamese Americans, numerous bakeries and fast food restaurants specialize in bánh mì. Lee's Sandwiches, a fast food chain with locations in several states, specializes in Vietnamese sandwiches served on French baguettes (or traditional bánh mì at some locations) as well as Western-style sandwiches served on croissants. In New Orleans, Dong Phuong Oriental Bakery is known for the bánh mì bread that it distributes to restaurants throughout the city. After 1975, Ba Lẹ owner Võ Văn Lẹ fled to the United States and, along with Lâm Quốc Thanh, founded Bánh mì Ba Lê. The Eden Center shopping center in Northern Virginia has several well-known bakeries specializing in bánh mì.
Mainstream fast food chains have also incorporated bánh mì and other Vietnamese dishes into their portfolios. Yum! Brands operates a chain of bánh mì cafés called Bánh Shop. The former Chipotle-owned ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen chain briefly sold bánh mì. Jack in the Box offers a "bánh mì–inspired" fried chicken sandwich as part of its Food Truck Series. McDonald's and Paris Baguette locations in Vietnam offer bánh mì.
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