In one of my articles on Vietnamese bread or banh my, I quoted a saying of my grandmother’s, which seems far-fetched nowadays — bread used to be for rich people, not the working class.
Bread, along with many other ingredients and flavours, was brought to Vietnam by the French. And people used to think that the Western-originated baguette was only for people who could afford delicacies like butter and pâté.
Gradually, local people tinkered with the French baguette, creating their own style of banh my using rice flour. It has since become a street food staple all around Vietnam. As a street food meant for blue-collar workers, banh my always has the shape of a short baguette rather than a bun or roll. The banh my is also fluffier than the French baguette, allowing it to be easily stuffed with fillings, such as pate or fried egg.
People have found many ways to eat their banh my. One option is dipping it into sauces. This is ideal with hot sauces when the street corners of Hanoi start feeling the onset of autumn or are in the grip of the piercing winter cold.
Besides banh my with beef stew in red wine sauce or banh my sot vang and banh my with Vietnamese-styled beefsteak or bo bit bet, bread eaten served on a frying pan or banh my chao, (chao here means a frying pan in Vietnamese), is one of the ways local people enjoy their banh my with sauces. It has become a favourite among young locals.
The eatery said to be the first one to serve banh my chao is at Ngo 35, Thai Thinh. Here banh my is offered with a small pan of pâté and an omelet, together with a plate of cucumber. It can also be accompanied by a bowl of sot vang if diners prefer to eat both.
That’s how banh my chao initially started in Hanoi, pairing banh my with pâté and omelette to make up a ready meal for lunch or dinner. Now, as this dish is so popular, there are a number of variations, with people adding anything from beef and fried potatoes, to sausage and pork.
All in the Sauce
The banh my chao at Smilemee (44 Phan Boi Chau, Hoan Kiem) is a must-try if you want to know how local Hanoians like this dish.
Initially a streetside eatery on Nam Dong, the recipe has proved so popular among young locals that the owner decided to open a second branch on Phan Boi Chau.
Here the offering includes a pan of omelette, pâté, beef, mashed potato and pickled vegetables and herbs, served with tomato sauce and eaten with bread. The secret of Smilemee banh my chao lies in its tomato-based sauce. According to the owner of the shop, “Vietnamese people do not like oily food; therefore, the sauce was originally made from fresh tomatoes to balance the taste of different types of proteins with something light and fresh. People really like dipping their banh my into the sauce.”
Like other local banh my chao eateries, the pâté is served like a slice of sandwich bread and put into the pan after it is fried. “Local people love eating fried pâté, which is a bit burnt at the edges, and has a peppery smell,” says the owner. The eatery also offers homemade juices and drinks including corn milk and pumpkin milk.
Located in a French villa built over a hundred years ago, and renovated by the shop owner with touches of Vietnamese architecture, the eatery is a blend of the French colonial legacy and the Vietnamese spirit, both in its food and its design.
Smilemee is at 44 Phan Boi Chau, Hoan Kiem. With prices ranging from VND39,000 to VND85,000, you can choose different types of ingredients for your pan. The eatery also offers a wide selection of stuffed banh my, from VND19,000 to VND 45,000