Bánh mì is actually something of an ambiguous culinary term. In Vietnamese, it just means “bread” – as in any kind of bread, but most likely the baguette-like buns introduced by the French when they held sway in Indochina. However, thanks to the Vietnamese diaspora scattered throughout the world, a bánh mì is known to be a small baguette sandwich loaded with everything from rustic liver pate to bits and bobs of unique Vietnamese charcuterie even to such oddities as chicken and pork floss.
I’ve had bánh mì in a number of local Vietnamese restaurants but, by far, the most authentic – and possibly the tastiest – has to be the Traditional bánh mì from Bon Banhmi.
This sandwich stand started out with a single shop in San Antonio Village, the heart of Makati’s foodie hipster zone. It has since branched out and has outlets throughout the Makati area. The one closest to me is actually on the twelfth floor of the GT Tower along Ayala Avenue but it offers virtually everything from the original – including a real Vietnamese sandwich mistress running the stall.
Whatever sarnie you choose, though, you can expect it to be good; excellent as a matter of fact. Craving beef? They have one with grilled beef. Pork? Take your pick: roasted with crackling skin on, meatballs, or barbecued. Chicken fans can have one filled with shreds of chicken floss and veg-heads can have a baguette loaded with crisp greens, crunchy fresh cukes, pickles, and cilantro sprigs.
But take it from me: what you want – and what you will eventually crave for – is the traditional. This is Bon Banhmi’s version of the bánh mì dac biet or bánh mì huynh hoa: a baguette stuffed with three kinds of Vietnamese ham or sausage plus pickles, salad greens, and dressing. The meaty triumvirate featured here has cha lua (pork headcheese), cha gio heo (a pork sausage similar to Italian salami or mortadella), and cha thu (red-rinded pork shank ham); and this is aside from the generous schmear of Vietnamese liver pate and a rich, creamy homemade mayonnaise that tastes absolutely lush and buttery. A scoop of daikon and carrot pickles helps cut the porky richness while fresh cucumber and cilantro add crunch and zing.
It really is one of the best sandwiches you’ll ever eat: the bread is crispy from start to finish, keeping its crusty integrity despite the creamy pate and mayo as well as the juices from the pickles and the spicy dressing. Every bite melds together into a refreshingly savory whole and the chef doesn’t skimp on any of the ingredients. Truth be told, it isn’t a bad deal for P 99.00 for a medium or, better yet, P 119.00 for the large. (Get the large; you won’t regret it.)
Grab an iced coffee and settle down for a meal that wouldn’t be out of place in the streets of Saigon.