For those not familiar with Vietnamese cuisine, a banh mi is basically a sandwich stuffed with various meats and veggies. Every banh mi maker has their own choice of/amount of fillings. But a good banh mi is so much more than just a sandwich!
My love for bahn mi sandwiches sprung from my very first experience trying one from a food truck (originally called Banh Mi Boy) here in Bangkok. Their sandwiches were so good they were able to park their food truck and open a small restaurant. They had to drop the “y” and become Banh Mi Bo, but their amazing sandwiches didn’t change. They’re one of those things that you crave every now and then. You HAVE to have one.
So when Anna and I planned to spend New Year’s in Ho Chi Minh City, I was thrilled we’d be going to the Land of Banh Mi Sandwiches. Certainly Vietnam is known for more…but I really, really, really like these sandwiches and could think of nothing else!
The search begins…
We are so lucky to have the Internet. It used to be about the only resource a person had to get a bead on where they’re going was a Lonely Planet book. But now we have the Internet–combining all the resources of travel blogs, videos, as well as various ratings and “best of” sites. Now I am able to research and zero in on recommendations I am looking for from the comfort of my home and at the speed of my Internet connection. “BEST BANH MI SANDWICHES HO CHI MINH CITY”, my fingers speedily typed into the search engine. From research I picked one that had great reviews and was closest to our hotel–within walking distance even!
I picked a banh mi winner!
I chose Bánh Mì Huỳnh Hoa (unofficial Facebook page), and after a long day of walking about the city we decided to go there for an early dinner. One thing about the Vietnamese language, it seems to my American eyes that it is 80% comprised of the same 10 words but with different accents in different places. My eyes are used to crossword puzzles so maybe that’s what creates that illusion for me. To make a long story short, I felt doubtful that I had found THE Bánh Mì Huỳnh Hoa place. Especially since it looked pretty empty.
But after standing in line for just a couple of minutes a long queue quickly formed behind me. I felt very confident I was in the right place! There’s no seating area to eat there so with fresh banh mi sandwiches in hand, we started walking…and eating.
When we travel Anna usually takes over the camera duties. She’s got an eye for it. But it also often results in not getting too many happy snaps of my gal. I am proud of this picture I took. It captures that very moment of pure sandwich eating bliss right before the immediate descension into fire mouth hell. She still talks about the moment she bit into a banh mi sandwich and got a mouth full of red death chili paste. Normally it’s spread on the sandwich in such a way it disseminates the heat appropriately. But not this time. Not this sandwich. Not for Anna.
A hero is rises to the occasion…
I’ve never seen her look so panicked. She couldn’t breath. She couldn’t speak. She was in trouble and I was there to save her. Like Richard Gere in that Officer and Gentleman movie….or was it Pretty Woman? It doesn’t matter, I was a hero. I saved the day. Ignoring the deadly Ho Chi Minh City traffic, I darted across the street, purchased an ice-cold can of 333 Beer and brought it to her…opened. Anna enjoys beer but I wouldn’t catalogue her as a drinker. In this moment I was proud of her, she’d have put any frat boy to shame. She was pledging to save her insides from the fire she’d just introduced to her guts. She was in fireman mode.
I am confident this particular sandwich was a fluke…a slip of the knife…something. My sandwich was excellent! They really pile on the meats and fillings. Anna’s a trooper. She wanted to have a good banh mi experience story and so we went there the our last night in the city for a very successful round two. We even found a nice corner bar that let us eat there so long as we bought some ice-cold Bia Saigon beers. Deal!