The best Vietnamese banh mi sandwich in the world is in Hoi An (as featured on No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain)
Put simply, the food in Vietnam is amazing. Assuming you like this style at all, this country might be the perfect foodie destination since Vietnam is notorious for dishes bursting with just-picked vegetables and herbs, prepared with care, and all at jaw-droppingly low prices.
The colonial French influence on the cuisine here is subtle, but it’s still easy to spot with the excellent fresh baguettes all over, plus the general emphasis on quality in both flavor and presentation.
If you’ve seen the first “No Reservations” episode shot in Vietnam you might remember that amazing sandwich that Tony and his old boss from Les Halles, Philippe Lajaunie, scarfed down just outside the main market. Either way, the video of that segment is below.
Traveling slowly around Vietnam as I am, I knew I had to try to find this little sandwich stand when I got to Hoi An. The banh mi sandwiches I’ve had in Hanoi and elsewhere have been great, but Hoi An seems to be have the best food in the country from what I’ve read, and my experiences here definitely back that up.
There’s no way I could properly describe banh mi sandwiches myself, partly because they seem to vary from stand to stand and from city to city. The wikipedia page for banh mi does a good job, and it explains that this is a Vietnamese variation of what is basically a French “salad sandwich.” All the ones I’ve tried have contained the liver pate as well as the pork slices, but I do believe that they’ll make you a vegetarian version if you can communicate that to them.
Finding this exact sandwich stand
I looked all around the Hoi An main market and I didn’t see it. The market here is packed with fruits, vegetables, freshly butchered meats, plus nearly everything that cooks in this city need, and it’s big and confusing. I went on Google and found nothing, even when I tried entering in the text from the sign that is visible in the “No Reservations” video.
But on my next attempt I found it right away. It’s at the far eastern entrance to the market, along Hoang Dieu street. There’s no official address that I could find, so I made a map of the place to help future visitors find the place easily.
Map to find this banh mi stand
View Tiem Banh Mi Phoung in Hoi An, Vietnam in a larger map
My first attempt
The name of the place is Tiệm Bánh Mi Phương, which I’m told basically means Phuong’s banh mi shop. Banh mi is both the name of the bread and the name of the sandwich, by the way. They also do catering for weddings and special events, according to the person who translated the sign for me.
The day I found it I ordered one and it was almost as wonderful as I’d imagined, but something was missing, namely that freshly fried (and greasy looking) egg on top.
So I came back the next day and this time I had the YouTube video loaded in my iPhone so I could show them. On this visit it was a different woman making the sandwiches. Perhaps it was Phuong this time, or maybe not.
She speaks very little English but she understood that I wanted to show her a video. She watched the beginning and began to smile and laugh. She said it was her in the video making Tony’s sandwich. She watched the rest of it and then asked me if the guy in the video was a friend of mine (he’s not).
Apparently she didn’t realize that she’s been featured in a small slice of food porn on a show that is popular around the world. I told her that it’s not a video shot by a friend of mine, but this was a famous travel host that is known and watched by millions of people.
I’m still not sure how well she understands, but she did call some friends over and asked me to play the video once again, which I did.
This time I got the “banh mi deluxe”!
I told her that I wanted the same sandwich she made for them on the show and she began to put it together. Evidently these things are made freestyle and they might have an ingredient one day and not the next, so there isn’t one strict recipe. I stressed that I wanted the egg on top, so she went to the little portable stove behind her and fired it up. The fried egg, it seems, is something special you have to ask for.
This time she asked me if I wanted freshly sliced tomatoes and also sliced green chili peppers and I told her that I absolutely did. She seemed delighted to be making a sandwich for a “fan” and I have a feeling that everyone can get the same service if they just ask.
Now that she knows it was on a famous TV show I imagine it’ll be that much easier to get the deluxe version for people who mention it.
The price of this amazing banh mi?
Nearly everything in Vietnam is ridiculously cheap by “Western” standards, with food being a particular bargain. Oddly enough, even though it’s one of the loveliest and most touristy cities in the country, Hoi An prices are even lower than other major cities.
Banh mi = 15,000 dong (about US$0.78)
Update: 30,000 dong (US$1.44) in May 2012 according to David in the comments, although it's possible that she charges less for locals or for the non-egg version.
And you might think asking for the fried egg and tomatoes and peppers would increase the cost, but amazingly it’s still 15,000 dong no matter what you get on the thing.
I’ve had very good banh mi in Hoi An from a place in a more residential neighborhood and it was only 10,000 dong, and other good ones in the tourist district of Hanoi for 20,000 dong, but this one at this shop was definitely the best one I’ve had so far, and I’d say that even if I hadn’t first seen it on television.