Vietnamese sandwiches, also known as banh mi, are clearly the fast food choice of the moment. When they are well made from quality ingredients they combine fascinating flavours and textures which are totally harmonious and completely compelling. The first time we had was them was back in 2005 at Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches in New York City. It was a real drag to get there, but the banh mi were impressively good.
People are sometimes surprised when I tell them banh mi are baguettes (which ideally should be made by using some rice flour along with wheat flour, this gives them extra-crispiness) and often have pate and mayonnaise as fillings. They do not think these are terribly Vietnamese ingredients. They forget that Vietnam was once a French colony and some of their foods became lodged in Vietnamese culture even after they left.
Pate and mayonnaise are common ingredients in the type banh mi, but other types of meat can be used. They will always contain pickled carrot and giant radish, which have a great crunchy texture and piquant flavour. Chillies are a minor component, but most places will add extra if you ask. They are seasoned with salt, pepper and usually Maggi seasoning sauce. So where can you get these wonderful things?[image image_id=”2359″ size=”large” link=”false” title=”Viet Baguette in Charlotte Place, avoid it. Thanks to goodforlunch.com for the picture.” align=”right”]
Not from Viet Baguette on Charlotte Place (near Goodge Street), that is for sure. [link2post id=”437″]Our experience there was so disappointing[/link2post]. The banh mi were nowhere near the quality they can attain, just plain boring with no passion or excitement, and the staff were a bunch of feckless drips. It did not deserve to be as busy as it was.[image image_id=”2662″ align=”left” title=”Viet Baguette in Woolwich is very good”]
The identically named Viet Baguette on Macbean Street in Woolwich is a much more satisfying venue for banh mi of real quality. [link2post id=”413″]On our first trip we enjoyed them so much[/link2post] that I now go there regularly, whenever I am charged with the mood for a quality lunch. I’m amused they’ve pinned our review and pictures to their wall, fame at last![image image_id=”2664″ align=”right” title=”Baguette and More in Greenwich Market”]
Less far out from the central London action is [link2post id=”392″]Baguette and More[/link2post] in the Greenwich food market on Greenwich High Road (between Stockwell Street and Nelson Road). They have more flavours of banh mi here, including a brilliant barbecued pork version which is our favourite option from them. This is a slightly better source than Woolwich’s Viet Baguette (quite brilliant as they are) because of their broader range of offerings, but it is only open at weekends. You have to eat outside (benches provided) which is a bit vexatious when is cold or raining, but order one of their banh mi and you will soon smile. They have a branch in Broadway Market as well. [image image_id=”2666″ align=”left” title=”The partner enjoying banh mi from Baguette and more”]
The banh mi establishment in central London we really want to visit is Mon Me in the Sunday Upmarket off Brick Lane in Spitalfields. It gets rave reviews, like this one in The Independent, but we are yet to feel like trekking into The City on a Sunday (the only day it is open) even with the promise of top banh mi if we do. We’ll be there when the weather improves a bit. Many thanks to unwholey on Twitter for giving me a ‘heads up’ about this establishment.
Banh mi are about as interesting as sandwiches get (although I will admit to liking [link2post id=”768″]very simple sandwiches[/link2post] from [link2post id=”673″]time to time[/link2post]), if you are yet to experience them you should rectify that as soon as possible.
Encouraged by your write-up, David, this weekend I took the plunge into the world of banh mi. And I enjoyed it. Saturday lunch was at Baguette and More, in Greenwich. And on Sunday it was down to Brick Lane, one of the most buzzing and fun places to spend a Sunday afternoon in London at the moment, for more banh mi at Mon Me.
As you wrote, it is the harmonious, sometimes surprising combination of flavours that makes banh mi so yummy. I’m hooked. Both places are amazingly good value for sandwiches of such interest. Mon Me was marginally the more expensive of the two, and I think it was worth the extra. While essentially similar, I felt the quality of the ingredients was better at Brick Lane. Perhaps I made a better choice of sandwich there (the delicious “Original Pork Baguette). I felt the meat at Baguette and More (was it pate?) was just a little too processed. But overall, both places were a hit with me.
I was surprised to find such interesting, nice food at such modest establishments. Baguette and More is a roadside caravan, among several other similar establishments, with a few tables and benches. Mon Me is a market stall, surrounded by many others of varied ethnic food (my companion went for a Brazilian meal in plastic dish, and was also well-satisfied). It’s tasty, it’s simple, and it’s fun. No doubt banh mi will soon go mainstream, and every supermarket will have its version. But these cheerful Vietnamese market-traders are the way to do it.
Ca Phe VN has launched its own Banhmi – Banh Mi SaiGon – every Saturday at the Saigon Street Cafe – Benjamin Close, Broadway Market E8 10-5
5 pork, traditional Southern style baguette – excellent light bread with cha bong, steamed pork, cha, gammon ham, pate, pickled diakon & carrot, cucumber, spring onion, coriander, gravy, Vietnamese mayonaise & chilli.
Ca Phe VN 07780784696