The Banh Mi sandwich originated in Saigon under French occupation during the mid 19th century. It’s a blend of French and Vietnamese staples: bread, pork sausage, coriander, cucumber, pickled carrots and daikon, pâté, jalapeño, and mayo. These are the “standard” but we saw and ate many banh mis that included different ingredients. One time a woman cracked an egg in a wok like pan and quickly fried it to include in our banh mi.
From my extensive research, I have determined the best banh mis are:
- prepared and sold by an older women from her street cart (for some reason I saw no men in this job while I was there)
- cost no more than $1.50-$3.00 each
- wrapped in newspaper
Forget about paying $6 for a Bahn Mi at a sit down spot. Hands down, the best we had were from street vendors.
And now, dear readers, let me share my Banh Mi Countdown.
Let’s begin with the worst Banh Mi,
This wasn’t the worst Banh mi due to it’s taste. This banh mi included decadent ingredients: “Imported Striploin Beef, Creamy Smoked Black Pepper Sauce, Lemon grass chicken, Rasher pork “Ba roi – slow simmered in coconut juice stock with a hint of fresh onion and Phu Quoc’s world renowned fish sauce.” But this banh mi represented everything you are not looking for in a true banh mi experience: indoor air conditioning, sit down restaurant, and a final bill that’s over $10 for two banh mis. That’s triple what a street banh mi should be. And with all the fancy ingredients, it didn’t taste like anything special. It was a regular roasted pork sandwich with sauce that cost way too much.
We’d heard about this place from food blogs and friends who’d been to Saigon. We had to give it a try. I thought it was going to be the best. It wasn’t. I wasn’t a fan of the gelatinous, over-processed lunchmeat they used in this banh mi. Think chunks of meat surrounded by clear gelatin. The veggies were good and the bread was exceptional. The bread had a firm shell and a fluffy inside. Fresh baked for sure.
L’usine cafes are a great place to spend the afternoon in Saigon. They have three locations. Every cafe includes a boutique store full of perfect souvenirs for yourself or others back home: scarves, cooking salts, candles, clothes, cookbooks and ceramics. But I’d advise going there just for a coffee and some light shopping, not for their banh mi.
This banh mi was missing flavor. It was more like a meatball sub with a few thin veggies sprinkled within. It’s lackluster ballooned with the addition of the bland potato salad.
This was a place on our street. If our favorite banh mi lady was not working that day or was closed for the day, we’d go here before exploring the city. Their meat was chopped, roasted pork. Their pâté and mayo was plentiful and their jalapenos spared us no heat on the taste buds. A jalapeno was placed on each end of the sandwich. Your first and last bite is a kick in the pants.
The Best Banh Mi in Saigon:
I’d tell you the name if I could, but I have no idea what it is. This woman’s stand had no name I could decipher and it simply said the ingredients in french on the side of its glass panes. But I CAN tell you the location. It is parked across the street from the stores Thich Kem and Mina 192b Võ Văn Tần, Phường 5, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam open between the hours of 7:00 a.m. – 10 a.m.
Each banh mi was $1.50. The banh mi meat was roasted pork (not lunch meat!) and homemade pork meatballs in a stewed sauce. The bread was fresh, the pâté decadent. The sandwich was wrapped in newspaper, with a rubber band around its waist.
So those are my rules. The best banh mis are from a street cart, usually owned and operated by an older Vietnamese woman. They are less than $3.00. Between 22,000 – 70,000 Dong (Vietnamese currency).
One of the best food sites we used in Saigon was https://www.foody.vn/ – It’s used by locals and saved us from going to a tourist trap. We were able to find local favorites that were not expensive. $2-$4 dollars a meal.
Every time we chose something off Tripadvisor in Vietnam we were disappointed. Every place was a tourist trap (over priced, not good/authentic food) and catered to foreigners, not Vietnamese or locals.
Now – go find yourself a badass banh mi, mon cherie!