One of the reactions that I get about The Banh Mi Handbook has to do with the price of banh mi. That’s to say, if I can get banh mi for a few dollars, why should I want to make it? Why do I need your book? My initial reaction is that that person is not necessarily my audience. He/she is an eater, not a cook. Nevertheless, my publisher and I made sure to give people value in producing a cookbook that retails for less than the price of say, a fancy pizza.
Since the book came out, I’ve been having conversations with a few Viet-American friends in food about the price of ethnic food and why many people think that good ethnic food should be low-priced. This isn’t about racial differences because you often hear Asian people remark about how wonderfully cheap something is. It’s like we know how much labor some foods take to produce yet we’re not fully willing to pay for them. Many of us are cheapskates.
It’s a funny mindset because in Asia, just like elsewhere in the world, food is available at many price points. While I was in Saigon last January, I snapped a number of photos of banh mi vendors. Each one caught my eye for their beauty (the light, colors, etc.) or their menu. Two of the banh mi vendors were part of Robyn Eckhardt and my quest for the best banh mi in Saigon for her Wall Street Journey story. Yesterday I looked at the images I snapped and noticed that they provided interesting insight into banh mi prices in Vietnam. Note the following exchange rate:
1 US or Australian dollar ~ 20,000 Vietnamese dong