So what is a Bánh mì sandwich? For starters Bánh mì is a Vietnamese term for all kinds of bread. The word is derived from bánh (bread) and mì (wheat, also spelled mì in northern Vietnam). Basically, it’s a baguette and one may say represents the French influence in Vietnam.
The Bánh mì sandwich is a staple around Hanoi and typical fillings include steamed, pan-roasted or oven-roasted seasoned pork belly, Vietnamese sausage, grilled pork, grilled pork patties, spreadable pork liver pâté, pork floss, grilled chicken, accompanying vegetables typically include fresh cucumber slices, cilantro (leaves of the coriander plant) and pickled carrots and daikon in shredded form. Common condiments include and spicy chili sauce.
I was introduced to the Bánh mì sandwich years ago in San Jose CA by my buddy Brad. My favorite is grilled chicken extra vegetable and chili sauce and the side and like most things having the original here in Vietnam just taste better.
What inspired me to write about the Bánh mì sandwich? This is similar to my previous post on the best Pho in Hanoi. I was directed to Bahn Mi 25 for the best Bánh mì sandwich. Bahn Mi 25 is a 2rd generation street food cart in Old Quarters located outside of a lock shop with plastic tables and stools etc. Bánh mì sandwich and a cold beer will cost you under $2.00. During my first visit there it was very busy so I shared a table with a young couple from London, they were regulars. As I observed the operations there was one young man who was very engaged with everyone, he spoke pretty good english and greeted everyone and kept checking to see if we needed anything. I later found out that the young man was the owner Unog. Unog introduced himself to me like all the other patrons he greets everyone with “Hello my friend!”….Later I found out that Bahn Mi 25 was open a new location closer to my apartment. This would be an actual indoor sit down restaurant, the first for Banh Mi 25 and a proud moment for the family. On occasion I would stop by the new location while it was still under construction and was warmly greeted by Unog with a “Come in my friend”, he would show me around and ask for my feedback and asked me to please stop by every day to give him feedback.
Pictured above: Ungo and his father, street side dining, Ungo next to his stand and the new indoor restaurant.
The food scene here in Hanoi is part of the adventure and the reason why so many come to Vietnam. It’s very competitive so you must be good to survive. I was surprised to find that this little street cart food vendor was routinely rated in the top 5 of 1603 restaurants in all of Hanoi, 2 weeks ago it was rated #2.
- Is it the food ? It’s just a Bánh mì sandwich which you can get anywhere
- Is it the location? Unlikely, down a small side street in Old Quarters
- Is it that atmosphere? It is cool to set on the sidewalk on a little plastic stool to eat
- Is it the price? Yes its cheap but so are all the other places
- Is it reputation? Afterall it was recommended to me as the best!
After observing the operations I think it is a combination of these, the food, the unique feel of street food to the old dude always there to greet you with a free tea or beer, or people like me talking about my experience.
Most important is the ATTITUDE of the owner Unog, you can just feel his engagement with the customers and the very genuine greeting of “Hello my friend”. He takes pride in keeping up the family business, and always has a CAN DO ATTITUDE to ensure every guest that comes to his cart feels welcome. He is very proud to have opened their first indoor restaurant, but humble to maintain the old tradition. He refuses to raise his prices because he feels obligated to stick to tradition and ensure that everyone in the community can afford to dine with them. I think we can all learn a thing or two from Unog, he is passionate about his business, he knows the importance of his customers and he makes each of them feel special when they choose to dine with him.
I truly feel that Unog takes to heart his greeting “Hello my friend” …….that is why it is more than just a Bánh mì sandwich.