As someone who eats a sandwich pretty much every day, it’s perhaps surprising that a humble dish of meat (usually) in bread can still blow my mind. Very few sandwiches are memorable; 90% of those I eat are bland supermarket meal deals.
Every so often, less than once a year, however, I’ll eat a perfect, unforgettable, sandwich. Such occasions are few and far between, they can be counted on one hand. The salt beef sandwich at Katz in New York; a Navajo flatbread in Austin; a steak in a small baguette I would always get in Brazil on the way to the beach; falafel in Jerusalem. All these I remember like they were yesterday, and would pay good money to eat again.
In Hoi An, a pretty, coastal town in central Vietnam famous for cheap tailoring and UNESCO-protected architecture, a new sandwich was unexpectedly but happilly added to the list. Aside from pho, the banh mi is probably Vietnam’s most famous dish. One of the few positive legacies from the French colonial period, perfectly textured baguettes are filled with pate before being completed with a variety of ingredients.
Available everywhere and cheap (usually £1, though I ate a fantastic one in Hue for around 25p), the banh mi is one of the staples of Vietnam’s vibrant and varied street food scene.
I used to watch Anthony Bourdain religiously, and therefore know of his love for Vietnam and its food. I had completely forgotten, however, that he visited, and loved, a small restaurant in Hoi An serving one of the best banh mi around. Fortunately, an encounter with an Australian who had eaten there every day during his stay reminded me. Promptly, I made the two-minute pilgrimage from my hostel to Phuong Banh Mi, hidden away and easy to miss.
In no time at all, the sandwhich arrived, on a baguette so crispy on the outside, yet so fluffy that it rivalled anything you can find in France. The pate was ample and strong in flavour, and a perfect counterbalance to the chilli sauce. I went for what looked like the traditional option: pate, ham and roast pork, and there was certainly a lot of each. Banh mi are usually finished off with cucumber, carrot and lettuce. The balance between ingredients was perfect and the pork more flavoursome and tender than any other I’d had.
I now have five sandwiches on my list, and picking one over all others would be tough. But the banh mi at Phuong’s in Hoi An deserves its spot, and should not be missed by anyone visiting Vietnam.