Banh my is everywhere in Hanoi, but one eatery on Pho Hue serves the Vietnamese baguette the way it used to be made. Words by Tran Cam Thu. Photos by Julie Vola
With so many shops offering twists on Vietnamese the breakfast staple banh my: banh my thit nuong, banh my kebab, banh my chao, a newcomer to Hanoi and probably anyone born in the city after 1990 might start to wonder what the original flavour of banh my is. Look no further than Banh My Pho Hue, a shop that still sells banh my the way most people who grew up in Hanoi in the 1980s remember it.
Situated on busy Pho Hue, this unassuming shop can be easily overlooked even by locals who frequent this street. Yet the word of its goodness spreads as far as to Saigon — whose version of banh mi (note the different spelling) made its way to the Oxford English dictionary in 2011 thanks to the flow of southern Vietnamese immigrating overseas and bringing along their favourite breakfast/snack.
In Touch with Tradition
The shop offers three versions of banh my; its signature banh my pate, Hanoi long-time favourite banh my trung (omelette baguette), and banh my pate trung (pate omelette baguette) — a twist on the omelette baguette. For the signature banh my pate, the banh my is first warmed and toasted in a simple oven. This step is not taken lightly since the bread should not be too crunchy that it crumbles at the very first bite yet the baguette needs to be hot enough to melt away the butter and pate.
A thin layer of butter is then spread on both inner sides of the banh my, paving the way for the grand entrance of liver pate that is generously applied right after. Then comes thinly sliced Vietnamese sausages and char siu pork that is deftly mixed with salt and pepper right before being stuffed into the baguette. Finally, pork floss, sliced cucumber and optional house chilli gravy seal the deal.
As the name suggests, banh my pate puts a stronger focus on pate, the make-or-break ingredient in this sandwich. Interestingly enough, the recipe for good pate includes bread crumbs.
Similarly, banh my thit or banh my Saigon, as Hanoians call it, is more of a symphony of multiple kinds of hams and spiced pork whereas pate plays a supporting role. For spreads, Hanoians prefer soft butter rather than mayonnaise.
For vegetables, only a few slices of cucumber and occasionally one or two stems of cilantro are added, while in Saigon it’s pickled vegetables and spring onions. The reason is to maintain the crunchiness of the bread and to not overpower the main pate flavour. For dressing, only a pinch of salt and pepper is sprinkled instead of soy sauce, so as not to soften the bread inside.
In the early 2000s, banh my Nhu Lan hailing from Saigon made waves in Hanoi thanks to its meaty and fresh take on the one-dimensional (in the words of BBC Travel) banh my Hanoi. So did banh my kebab and many other trends that followed.
Yet after fads come and go, banh my fans are happy to return to establishments such as the 40-plus-year-old Banh my pho Hue, which never fails to deliver that solid goodness of banh my pate that made them fall in love with banh my in the first place.
Banh My Pho Hue is at 118 Pho Hue, Hai Ba Trung, Hanoi. It is open from 6.30am to 7pm daily
Cam Thu Tran Sunday, 02 October 2016 22:27 Comment Link
@QuangD I couldn't find any credible source on where banh my first landed in Vietnam (North vs South) so I did not touch on this topic - it can be controversial.
If you read carefully, I was just
i) comparing Hanoi style and Saigon style of banh my - which have different influence i.e. French vs Chinese (salt &pepper is Western thing while soy sauce is very typical Chinese). Again, I wasn't sure about this speculation so I deliberately left it vague; and
ii) explaining how the taste of banh my in Hanoi has evolved. It's quite different from when I grew up. And many modern chains/shops (iBanhmi, banh my Pho) are now offering their version of banh my Hanoi which was not the banh my I grew up with.
Food is very personal so there's no right or wrong version of banh my. I was just writing on an angle some might be interested to learn.
QuangD Tuesday, 20 September 2016 23:22 Comment Link
Banh mi did not originate in Hanoi. So, this banh mi pho Hue cannot claim itself as "original taste of banh my". Banh mi with the insidious contents like boiled pork (not xa xiu as described in the article), cha lua and pate, has been in every cities in the South during the war when the North had nothing because of its policy of state owned economy. The divergent tastes of banh mi could be made and evaluated in those years were based on the sauce that each vendor personally made. Some made it by the sauce of cooked pork, thit kho, some just plainly use magi (xi dau).
The only good point in this article is the crispy coat of the bread. This crispy coat enhances the flavor and taste of the bite.
There was one store on Nguyen Thien Thuat st, Saigon, and its name was Banh Mi Hanoi. It's just the name, and doesn't mean its banh mi has the taste of banh mi sold in Hanoi. The owner, a Hanoian migrated to Saigon in 1954, told me so in 1984.