These days the humble Bánh mì sandwich is one of the new “it” foods in North America. New Bánh mì -only shops are popping up everywhere, and many Vietnamese restaurants that had not served Bánh mì in the past are starting to do so now. But there is nothing “new” about this sandwich; people who grew up in Vietnam know the Bánh mì as one of their most cherished street foods, and it has a rich history.
When the French colonized Vietnam in the 1860s, they brought many of their European foods with them, including the famous French baguette (though they had to import all the wheat to make flour because wheat wouldn’t grow in Vietnam). For decades the French used their baguettes in their traditional ways, and refused to allow the Vietnamese people to eat their bread.
After the end of French colonial rule in 1954 people in Vietnam gained access to many of the food warehouses that were left behind, including wheat and flour, and many local people had learned how to make baguettes in the service of the French colonizers.
But local people had no interest in eating baguette on wooden boards alongside cold cuts and cheese, so they adapted local ingredients like pickled vegetables and grilled meats and used a modified version of the classic baguette to create an inexpensive but tasty, and portable, breakfast sandwich. Yes, in Vietnam the Bánh mì is most often bought from small street vendors and eaten as a filling, delicious on-the-go breakfast.
As we all navigate restaurant restrictions due to pandemic lockdowns, why not take the classic approach to enjoying your Bánh mì ? Go traditional and get one to go for an easy, filling and delicious on-the-go meal. And when restaurants re-open order your Bánh mì with a lovely Chinese tea and a side of soup for an easy sit-down lunch (remember those!?).