“Hard to resist” is what Theign Yie Phan, a head chef, describes Vietnamese “banh mi” (sandwich), in an article entitled “Story of the banh mi: Vietnam’s super sandwich that took on the world” run in the South China Morning Post.
Along withpho, the noodle soup, banh mi is one of Vietnam’s most famous culinary exports– a French-style bread filled with rich meats and zingy, fresh vegetables andherbs.
Through head chef Theign Yie Phan’s experience, Vietnamese banh mi becomes a anattractive colourful between-service snack.
“It is agood between-service snack. I eat one every other day. It is definitely notsomething you get sick of,” she says with a laugh, as she stands in front of anarray of colourful ingredients ready to be stuffed into a crusty baguette at LePetit Saigon in Wan Chai, the article wrote.
“As as andwich it is well balanced in flavours and textures. There’s the crusty warmbread, the richness of the flavours of the meat, and then the tartness and sourness from the pickles,” says Phan, who is also the head chef of next-doorsister restaurant, Le Garcon Saigon.
Cutting open a baguette, Phan begins layering it with thinly sliced pork belly, terrine and Vietnamese sausage, topped off with chicken liver pate and house-made mayonnaise. Next she balances that with slices of fresh cucumber, pickled vegetables, Maggi sauce, coriander, spring onion and chilli – “for punch”.
Phan is notalone in her love of the sandwich. Banh mi has gone from humble beginnings onthe streets of Saigon to become a global sensation – mirroring the history ofmodern Vietnam. So how did a country in Southeast Asia – known for rice andnoodle dishes – originate such a Western specialty as a sandwich?
To seek theanswer, the article’s authors met chef Peter Cuong Franklin who has researchedFrench cuisine’s influence in Vietnam to explore the story of Vietnamese banhmi.
“When theFrench colonised Vietnam, they needed to eat their own food. So they broughtthings like wheat to make bread, cheese, coffee, and other products that theywould consume every day,” Franklin says.
The Vietnamese were gradually introduced to these French foods, he says, though they were expensive back then. Eventually wheat, and the technique for making baguettes, were imported, and the locals – in particular the ethnic Chinese-Vietnamese – learned how to make bread.
The flavours of the modern banh mi vary by region in Vietnam. In Hanoi in the north, the fillings are more simple than the “original” found in Ho Chi Minh City in the south, and include high-quality cold cuts. In the central coastal city of HoiAn, the meat used is served warm.
“The US is ahub of pop culture, and over the years TV food shows, travel shows, Anthony Bourdain, food blogging and social media” have helped introduce people in the West to this quintessential fusion Vietnamese dish, says Phan.
Phan believes the wider American population embraced banh mi when it was introduced by Vietnamese immigrants because the ingredients used were “familiar” to the American palate.
“Everyone loves a good sandwich. And in every culture there is some sort of sandwich. So banh mi is very accessible culturally, so that’s why it has become so popular worldwide,” she said./.VNA
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