Originally designed as on-the-go street food, bánh mì is packed with flavor, a touch of fat balanced with light pickles, delicious and super affordable. When you can get it with fresh bread, it is unmatched. The Vietnamese bánh mì is a must-have for any sandwich lover.
This bánh mì recipe is a follow up to the recipe I last posted, the Vietnamese pork belly recipe.
The Vietnamese sandwich was influenced by French colonialism in Vietnam with French baguettes (much like Vietnamese coffee is), but the Vietnamese people have made this sandwich one of their own creations.
Vietnamese bánh mì is a departure from our simple homemade white bread sandwiches, with more distinct and unique flavors than the typical american chain foot-long sandwiches. You get your crunchy crusty bread fix with savory meats, fatty and salty spreads, crunchy pickles to balance out the richness, and herbs for a tidy handheld meal loaded with flavor.
Bánh mì is a Vietnamese sandwich. Bánh mì also literally means bread, much like the way the Vietnamese word for rice can also refer to “meals” or “food.” I’ve always wondered if its a ‘shortcut’ way of saying things or since the core ingredient, such as bread or rice, is so important it’s inseparable from the dish or meal you make of it.
Buying from local stores
I grew up with mom making these sandwiches at home in San Jose, and now I’m lucky to still live near a major Vietnamese community, Little Saigon, in Southern California. There are dozens of bánh mì shops nearby like Gala Bakery and many locations of Bánh Mì Che Cali. I used to eat a lot of Lee’s Sandwiches and they’re still a decent option when they have fresh baguettes coming out of the oven, but you can find better quality sandwiches from smaller mom n’ pop spots.
Perhaps the presence of so much competition in Southern California keeps the prices well below the $5 American subs, which I’m thankful for. And if you get the ubiquitous Vietnamese buy-2-get-1 free deal, it’s even cheaper to load up.
The main thing that stands out is the bread. Type and quality is crucial. Good bread is a base for the rest of the ingredients (which you should carefully select too).
Some people bake this bread at home, and after failing about a dozen times at regular French baguettes, I concede on that front. In this recipe I used store bought mini Vietnamese baguettes. Ain’t no shame in that!
The problem with a good baguette for bánh mì is you can’t buy it anywhere but from a Vietnamese bakery. Those large, dense loaves that American supermarkets bake (sometimes for their garlic bread) are massive and a bit dense, but can work in a pinch. French bread will get you closer.
Avoid sourdough, anything too dense and go for a crispy crust. Vietnamese baguette is typically pretty airy with a crispy crust. Some markets have small loaves of french bread which will work for this.
When you get a chance to try a shop with bread specifically made for these sandwiches, everything will change even if your filling ingredients remain the same.
The meat or filling
Homemade meat for these sandwiches can be much better when it’s all catered to your taste (see my recipe for homemade pork belly). Getting the fattiness of the meat, cut thickness, seasoning and amount of meat in your sandwich just right, can take it to another level.
For a super simple meat option, you can use the same oven-baked (or bbq) pork recipe I have on my bún thịt nướng recipe.
The veggies and pickles
Cucumbers: go with Persion style for the amazing crunch. Standard cucumbers are fine in a pinch too!
Herbs: all you need is cilantro and you’re golden. I’ve seen a few folks use other herbs. Although they may taste ok, it’s not traditional and will throw most Vietnamese people off.
Pickles: Let’s make it clear, I like the way my mom makes do chua (Vietnamese pickles). Only one or two shops nearby makes Vietnamese pickles the way I like–many places tend to make it very sweet, and extra pungent.
I’ll still eat it when catered, don’t get me wrong, but I want you to know there’s an alternative to the store-bought versions, and if you try making your own, it can be a game changer for how you perceive these pickles.
Follow my recipe for a lighter pickly taste, and higher daikon to carrot ratio. Once you get the hang of it, you can tweak it to your liking as well!
Onions are optional in the sandwich, and jalapenos are too, but just about every shop includes them by default. If you need a drink to pair with your Vietnamese sandwich, there’s nothing more fitting than a cà phê sữa đá, or an iced Vietnamese coffee!
Some frequently asked questions about bánh mì…
Are Vietnamese sandwiches healthy?
Like any sandwich, healthiness depends on the fillings you add into your sandwich. Bánh mì has the option of adding in different meats from chicken to pork to meatless options, pickled vegetables, bean sprouts, and more.
Many of my favorite bánh mì has mayo and pate, and lots of meat, which tips the fat and sodium on the higher end usually. Like anything, consume in moderation :).
What bread is used in bánh mì?
It may look like typical French baguettes on the outside, but Vietnamese baguettes tend to be airier inside. Many shops will carry the ~12″ Vietnamese loaf as well as a “baguette” option. In this recipe I like to use mini Vietnamese baguettes.
What does bánh mì mean in Vietnamese?
In Vietnamese, bánh can mean bread or baked goods and mì means “wheat.”
Bánh Mì Recipe – Vietnamese Sandwiches w/ Pork Belly
- 4 to 6 Vietnamese baguettes – the fresher the better
- 1 to 1.5 lb homemade pork belly or
- 1 to 1.5 lb grilled pork
- 2-3 crunchy cucumbers Persian cucumbers are ideal
- Vietnamese pate optional
- Homemade Vietnamese pickles / Đồ chua – as much as you'd like
- 1 medium yellow onion thinly sliced, optional
- 8 to 12 sprigs cilantro
- Maggi or soy sauce to taste
- 1 to 2 medium jalapeños thinly sliced
- freshly ground black pepper to taste, optional
- Toast baguettes to warm, but not so crispy that they fall apart when you split them to add fillings.
- Wash all the veggies and slice to prep. Slicing with a mandoline will keep everything uniform.
- Cut baguettes in half but leave the back part uncut so the loaf stays intact
- Add mayo and/or pate to the bottom, then layer the meat and veggies to your liking
- Add a few shakes of Maggi or soy sauce, and a few grinds of pepper to taste