Banh Mi Explosion
In 2011 banh mi was added as an entry to the Oxford English Dictionary. And now at the end of 2015, you can’t go to many western cities and escape the banh mi explosion. There are delicatessens, hole-in-the-wall eateries and food trucks that feature a range of these sandwiches, which have been a staple of Vietnamese street food since the baguette arrived with the French colonialists.
A couple of five-star restaurants have even gotten in on the act with swanky varieties that would definitely get a thumbs down from banh mi purists.
But, like all sandwiches, the banh mi has been under constant revision and reinvention, and many places chuck just about anything edible in between a small, crusty baguette and sell it as the real thing — which, arguably, it is.
One international fast food outlet featured a foot-long banh mi ‘submarine’.
However if you want to stick to a more Vietnamese-themed banh mi you should take a look at Andrea Nguyen’s new book, The Banh Mi Handbook: Recipes for Crazy Delicious Vietnamese Sandwiches.
Nguyen includes a recipe for making your own banh mi rolls for those who can’t source crusty bakers’ baguettes. Then she describes us how to make mayonnaise, sauces and pickles that add an authentic Vietnamese taste. After that she goes mouth-wateringly crazy with ingredients as varied as patés, terrines, tofu, chicken, beef, pork and seafood.
Her sliders — particularly the sardine and tomato sauce crostini or the Korean beef and kimchi open sandwich — are a delight, not to mention her burgers and vegetarian suggestions.
Nguyen’s book is almost an essential for anyone who wants to cater casually and easily, while keeping guests in rave mode. As for me, the age-old banh mi omelet (banh my trung) is my breakfast favorite and the banh mi donor kebab is a tummy-rumbling late night snack.
Travelogues with a Difference
Author Bridget March spent a summer in Sapa and a week in Hoi An, and using her skills as an illustrator and painter, put together two books that a Vietnamese publishing house has distributed.
The books have pertinent but non-fussy text in English and Vietnamese that will content the minds of travelers who have spent time in either place. But it’s the illustrations, usually watercolours, that will engage your memories.
Both books are slim and unpretentious, and just what the travel doctor ordered as stimulating gifts for potential tourists or memory jogs for past visitors. A Summer in Sapa and A Week in Hoi An are top quality, inexpensive paperbacks
The game of Monopoly with a Franco/Vietnamese flavour has arrived.
It is set in colonial Hanoi of the 1900s and using the familiar Monopoly format allows players to amass or lose fortunes as they move around the board. The most luxurious addresses are Rue Paul Bert (now Trang Tien) and Boulevard Francis Garnier (Dien Tien Hoang), while the cheapest are Rue Des Voiles (Hang Buom) and Rue Jean Dupuis (Hang Ma).
There are stations, utilities, community chests and chance selections, all with a colonial flavour while you go to jail in Maison Central (hoping that you don’t get tortured). Money is handed out by the bank in piasters.
Historical buffs will enjoy reading descriptions of the old streets in an insert. I didn’t realise that a public guillotine was once a feature in Le Duan, which was the first section of the 1,000-mile road to Saigon.
I’m anticipating a companion game set for modern Hanoi.
Truong is an avid reader and runs Bookworm (44 Chau Long, Ba Dinh, Hanoi) and Bookworm Weekend (6 Lane 1/28, Au Co, Tay Ho, Hanoi). For more information on go to bookwormhanoi.com