Banh mi for breakfast? Of course!!! Food writer and street food expert Robyn Eckhardt suggested that we go out to find the best banh mi in Saigon. There are lots of vendors in the morning so we decided to hit the streets around 9am. Her husband, photographer David Hagerman, joined us to document the experience.
Robyn and Dave live in Malaysia and we’ve been friends for years; they often work together on a popular culinary and travel site called EatingAsia. We were traveling together in Southeast Asia in January.
I don’t know if this is news to you but just like in the US, there are stellar, good, and uninspiring banh mi in Vietnam. To find stellar ones, you have to keep an eye out -- keep your banh mi radar up, as I say in Robyn’s story that was just published on the Wall Street Journal’s Scene Asia website.
Robyn went to three spots for the piece and I accompanied her to two of them. The Viet sandwiches were well crafted, not slapped together and handed to you less than 30 seconds after you placed an order. That’s thoughtful, skilled cooking, described by the term kheo in Vietnamese.
We had to wait about 10 minutes for banh mi from vendor Mai Thi Hoang, who caught my eye with a brazier set up inside her mobile cart to fry up eggs and warm the bread. She had regulars in the neighborhood who came by for their banh mi fix. I think they knew how lucky there were to have someone like her around to make banh mi with freshly made pate and mayo.
She was only open for a few hours a day. A home cook with a cart, she prepared banh mi with the kind of care you’d take if you were doing it yourself.
Then we went to Hoa Mai, a banh mi joint owned by Thi Hanh Le. Her family had owned the business since 1960 she told me. Out of bread when we first arrived, she was stressed and barking orders everyone. But the bread delivery man soon came by on a scooter and her calm and smile returned. Her bread was dense, with a good chew -- the way my family and I remembered it long ago. It wasn't the lightweight stuff you typically encounter.
We ate our sandwiches and a skillet of fried eggs in the alleyway with iced tea and coffee. Motorbikes zoomed past us, sometimes in droves. It was the quintessential way to spend a morning in Saigon.
To read Robyn's complete banh mi story and grab addresses and other details, go to this link at the Wall Street Journal; there should not be a paywall. Then whet your banh mi appetite with Dave’s stunning slideshow (a sample below).
If you've traveled to Vietnam, got any tips of where to find good banh mi?
Related post: Banh Mi Handbook: Take an advance look inside!