Banh mi, Vietnamese rolls: What they are and where you can find the best

PLATE UP This, surely, is the king or queen of sandwiches, a humble and yet astonishingly tasty creation that is up there in the heady sandwich echelons of the croque madame, the katsu sando, the lobster roll and the shawarma. We're talking Vietnam's banh mi, the pork roll, the crusty and yet fluffy French-style baguette filled with processed pork, farmhouse pate, mayonnaise, pickled carrots and daikon, coriander and chilli. The banh mi in Vietnam is food of the people, available on street corners, in markets and in small eateries nationwide, loved by locals and tourists alike as a breakfast or lunch staple, each version slightly different, tailored to local tastes, and yet all delicious and affordable.  

FIRST SERVE Rarely has a dish spoken so clearly of the history of a nation as the banh mi. The French, of course, brought baguettes with them during their imperialist reign of Vietnam, beginning in the 1850s. These bread sticks were typically served slathered in pate, or stuffed with ham and butter, or cheese, until the 1950s, when the Partition of Vietnam led to experimentation with local foodstuffs, and soon the banh mi as we now know it – with pork, pickled vegetables and chilli – was born. It wasn't until the 1980s, however, that the sandwich's nationwide popularity took hold.    

ORDER THERE Talk to 10 people in Vietnam and you will be told 10 different places to find the country's best banh mi. For this writer, it's a toss-up of two well-loved eateries in touristy Hoi An: Madam Kanh the Banh Mi Queen, and Banh Mi Phuong. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, though unless you say Madam Kanh the Banh Mi Queen, you're wrong. Seriously, this is a god-like sandwich, an incredible feat of culinary creation, elevated to perfection by the house-made chilli sauce that zips across the palate with an ideal blend of umami and heat.

ORDER HERE Great news: there are no shortage of high-quality banh mi purveyors in Australia. Again, this is subject to intense debate, though if you try Banh Mi Bay Ngo in Bankstown, Sydney (49 Bankstown City Plaza), or Nhu Lan Bakery in Footscray, Melbourne (116 Hopkins St), you can't go too wrong. 

ONE MORE THING There's far more to banh mi than just processed pork in a roll. Seek out variations such as "banh mi xiu mai", with pork meatballs, "banh mi cha ca", with fried fish patties, and perhaps the ultimate breakfast, "banh mi op la", with fried eggs and Maggi seasoning sauce.  

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