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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

World’s Best Banh Mi Sandwich?

I order mine with "the works"

Anthony Bourdain said this sandwich shop was the best in Vietnam….I say it just might be the best in the world.   Google banh mi and in a nano second you’ll get >36 million hits.  Bahn mi has become an international culinary hit.  There are now banh mi cookbooks, YouTube videos on tapas of banh mi, recipes for banh mi burgers and even banh mi pizza.  So, listen up when I say I know where the best banh mi on the planet is.

                    My fave spot has become so famous that it sells 3,000-4,000 banh mi daily

Let’s start at the beginning.  Banh mi actually means bread.  The French brought their beloved baguettes to Vietnam in the late 19th century.  The baguettes, made from expensive imported wheat, were affordable only to the French.  Once the French were kicked out of Vietnam, the Vietnamese began adding rice flour to the baguette, making it more reasonable in price.   The defeated French left behind warehouses filled with pâté, cheese, mayonnaise and expensive cold cuts which were all sold at rock-bottom prices in the local markets.  The Vietnamese, out of disdain for the French, began to eat these once forbidden products.  Out of spite and to flaunt their independence, the Vietnamese then began experimenting with local products as ingredients for the baguette.

                        There's a mind-boggling array of fillings...all prepared fresh daily

The actual banh mi, however, wasn’t birthed until the late 1950’s in Saigon.  Long before plastic and Styrofoam made everything portable, an ingenious couple who had fled north Vietnam to the southern capital, thought of making individual baguettes and filling them with a the Vietnamese version of pate, mayo and pickled vegetables.  They revolutionalized eating on the go in busy Saigon with their new sandwich as it could be carried away by customers in their hands.

  This place is so popular that the city's best bakery moved its location next door to the banh mi shop

Dove-tailing with the banh mi’s invention in Saigon during the mid 20th centry, the Americans also helped the success of banh mi.  During this period the US began sending wheat shipments which allowed the baguette industry to flourish.  By this time, the Vietnamese were also changing---they had become adept at making pâté from pork, adapting the Chinese version of BBQ to a local recipe, and were even making their own mayonnaise.

                                        Hoi An is also famous for its gorgeous silk lanterns

So, where is the world’s best banh mi?  It’s located in the UNESCO (United Nations World Heritage Site) seaside town of Hoi An.  There are at least ten ingredients, all of them working in total harmony:  a thin layer of aioli, a splash of the au jus left over from the roasting of the meats, a spreadable house-made pâté, BBQ pork, sliced tomatoes, pickled carrots and daikon, thinly sliced cucumbers, fresh cilantro, and finally a dab of fish sauce mixed with chili for the perfect kick.

      Wine-Knows will visit Hoi An's marketplace where all the bahn mi ingredients are purchased

If you’re coming with Wine-Knows in February 2020 to Vietnam you’ll be eating the Holy Grail of banh mi at this little dive of gastronomy.  There is one or possibly two spots remaining on this trip.  If you’re not coming, the name of the place is Banh Mi Phuong….expect a line out the door, and be sure to order “the works.”

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