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Hoi An is a hotbed of incredible food, from white rose dumplings to delicious cau lau noodles – but none is more hotly contested than that of best bánh mì, the Vietnamese sandwich filled with savoury ingredients.
Whilst Saigon may be the spiritual home of bánh mì, possibly the most famous versions can be found in Hoi An, with its well preserved ancient old town on the river. Read any article about the food scene here and generally, you will always see the same two bánh mì sellers mentioned, both of whom seem to have their own loyal following – Bánh Mì Phượng and Madam Khanh – the Bánh Mì Queen.
We wanted to try both and brave the queues so we could make our own mind up and because they are so damn cheap (less than 50p / 60 c a pop). Before we start, a little bánh mì background – your standard bánh mì is a combination of meat and vegetables (although vegetarian versions are increasingly common, generally using cheese). Typical ingredients including pork, chicken, pate, coriander (cilantro to our American cousins), cucumber and pickle.
The history of the bánh mì differs according to your source but the general agreed background is that it stems from the introduction of the baguette into Vietnam in the mid 19th century, when it was part of French Indochina, and became a popular breakfast / lunch snack in the early 20th century. During the 1950s, a more Vietnamese version of the sandwich developed in Ho Chi Minh City, becoming a popular street food.
Bánh Mì Phượng
For our first bánh mì, we decided to go with the one that had the longest queue by far – Bánh Mì Phượng. This is likely due to the fact that this stall was visited by the legendary Anthony Bourdain (RIP) during his ‘No Reservations’ series, where he proclaimed it to be delicious and some of the best Vietnamese food he’d ever tried.
We initially visited the stall one lunchtime but the queue was literally around the block – we really didn’t fancy queuing that long so we tried our luck the next day at around 10am in the morning and we found next to no queue (we aren’t sure if this was because the day tour groups hadn’t arrived yet in Hoi An for the day, or because travellers might be going elsewhere in between their hotel / hostel brekkie and lunch).
Our good fortune continued as we managed to get the last small table immediately inside, with a good eyeline of the bánh mì preparation station. All of the tables inside were also adorned with various passport pictures and business cards of previous visitors (don’t forget to bring yours).
We were given a one page laminated A4 menu and instantly, you know you are onto a good thing when there is only one thing available on the menu – we chose a combination bánh mì (chicken, pork pate) and a chicken bánh mì, along with a couple of soft drinks. Our bánh mìs arrived about five minutes later and by this time, a long queue outside was starting to form.
The bánh mìs were tasty – the bread was a tad too ‘crusty’ (quite hard) for my liking and the chicken a little too fatty in parts, but the overall combination (especially with the smooth pate) was good and I wolfed mine down within a couple of minutes. It was tasty, simple snack but I couldn’t help feel that the queues weren’t justified( maybe it is the ‘Bourdain effect’). Service was also efficient and brisk, as they obviously knew how to cope with the demands of making several hundred bánh mìs an hour.
Madam Khanh’s – The Bánh Mì Queen
On a separate day, we visited Madam Khanh’s – The Bánh Mì Queen. A local icon, Ms Loc (who is known as the bánh mì Queen) sold Vietnamese Sweet Soups and then moved to sell bread for more than 60 years. In the early days of the opening, Ms Loc’s shop had no name, but it was then suggested by a visitor that she name the restaurant after her husband, Mr Khanh.
We immediately noticed is that the queue outside was a lot smaller than that of Bánh Mì Phượng so maybe this wasn’t to be a good omen. Once again, we managed to get seat inside and ordered from a simple menu. Service was a little lackadaisical and we saw many people struggling to get the server’s attention.
However, the food they serve more than makes up for their so-so service. Whilst the bánh mìs before were good, these ones were simply out of this world – the warm baguette tasted fresh and moist with the flavours of the meat juice and sauce running through it. There was ample carrot, papaya and cucumber adding a bite and depth to the whole affair – this made the whole thing a little messy to eat but who cares?!
The meat quality here also seems better and I’ve read that the pate is homemade – it was so good that we decided to share a third (greedy yes, but happy piggies!)
So there we have it – in our totally non expert opinion (our only credentials are that we LOVE food), we definitely preferred Madam Khanh’s over Bánh Mì Phượng– however, at less than 50p / 65c a bánh mì, why not try both when you visit Hoi An and let us know your thoughts!
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Other Vietnam blog posts
- Things to do in Hoi An
- Top things to do in Hoi An during the rainy season
- Things to do in Hanoi, Vietnam
- Visiting Vietnam’s Lady Buddha in Da Nang
- New Year’s Eve in Hoi An, Vietnam
- A morning cooking class in Hoi An, Vietnam
- How we had our bag slashed and phone stolen in Da Nang, Vietnam
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