Everything you need to know about the Banh Mi

As rich in flavour as it is in history, this beloved Vietnamese street food is more than your average sandwich.

Top shot of banh mi sandwich wrapped in twine
  • Kaitlyn Palmer-Allen
  • April 2020

This delicious classic Vietnamese sandwich has spread from the streets of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and filled many a rumbling tummy around the world. Banh mi is all at once rich and aromatic, perfectly balancing the textures and flavours of its savoury fillings in a French-style baguette.

How to pronounce Banh mi correctly?

Don’t let the “nh” fool you. Banh mi (pronounced bun-mee) is as easy to say as it is to eat. So when you’re ready to order, sound like a local.

What is Banh mi made of?

In Vietnamese, banh mi means “bread” and that’s where every great sandwich starts. A wonderfully crispy-on-the-outside-yet-soft-on-the-inside baguette is split lengthways, smeared generously with mayo, topped with pâté and layered with cold cuts of chicken or pork, crispy pickled vegetables and fresh coriander, finished off with a few dashes of seasoning sauce.

Top shot of 2 stuffed banh mi sandwiches
Chicken or pork are the most common meat fillings for the banh mi, but it's always stuffed with plenty of fresh veg.

When is the best time to eat one?

Fancy a banh mi for breakfast? Go for it – the locals do. Any time is a good time and with banh mi carts lining the streets in most Vietnamese cities, you can grab one as an on-the-go meal at almost any hour.

What’s the history of Banh mi?

French colonists brought their language and food to Vietnam, including their long crusty baguette, in the 19th century. Until the 1950s, locals ate bread like the French – with butter, cold cuts and cheese. Vietnamese in the south then added rice flour to make the bread fluffier, reduced the loaf size, substituted butter for mayo and swapped pricey cold cuts for pickled vegetables. In 1980, American businessman and former refugee Lé Văn Bā noticed Vietnamese workers at a US computer plant had little time for lunch, so he started selling takeaway banh mi from a food truck, thereby exporting the traditional sandwich to the world. Genius!