Banh Mi Sandwich: From A French Bread To A Vietnamese Breakfast
Image Credit: Shutterstock, Banh Mi Sandwich

Don’t all the colonizers leave traces of their presence in the places they’ve ruled? Little did we know that something as basic as a sandwich would actually be reminisce of the French in Vietnam. While the idea of sandwich was known to the Vietnamese, the actual incorporation of the bread began much later in the country. The term Banh Mi itself refers to bread or rather a wheat-based baked good. The sandwich that is so popular today, came only after the French left. 

Banh Mi sandwich is a delectable breakfast treat in Vietnam that is commonly available on the street carts today. However, this wasn’t always the case. The French ruled Vietnam up until the World War I. Their missionaries began converting people to Catholicism in the 17th century and the then emperor of Vietnam retaliated with execution of some Spanish missionaries. Since the power of the French grew as they have a military feat in China during the same time, they expanded their scope to capture Saigon in Vietnam. Over time, they were able to conquer the surrounding areas calling it CochinChina and by 1862, the French dictated the terms of the country, encouraging the practice of Catholics. 

It was during the French colonization period that the demand for French tastes began. While all the other livestock and crops were grown in Vietnam since import was expensive, it was only wheat that the French craved for. This was so because Vietnam did not offer feasible conditions for this grain to grow on their land which forced the colonizers to export the bread from Europe. However, the expenses of this pricey bread led to its limited availability, only to the European officials. 

The Vietnamese diet continued to lack bread for the longest time. It was only after the World War I began that the European stocks of food flooded the markets of Saigon. This happened because the French troops left for the war and two German warehouse stocks were released in Vietnam. This was the moment of the birth of the Banh Mi sandwich when the baguettes (French bread) and cold cuts as well as meats were made available to the French colonies at affordable prices. 

Since the Vietnamese had the liberty of experimenting with the French dishes and introducing their local flavours to them, their experiments led to the creation of the Banh Mi sandwich. The sandwich is said to be first made by a couple in Saigon called Mr. and Mrs. Le. The couple made the iconic Vietnamese breakfast sandwich after the French left Asia and they were free to add their own flavourings to the French baguettes, including maggi seasoning and mayonnaise as well as locally-grown vegetables along with fried eggs to the sandwich. 

Within in no time, these sandwiches started to sell like hot cakes and became a breakfast favourite in Vietnam. Today, you’ll find street carts laden with these Banh Mi sandwiches which continue to be sold at Mr. and Mrs. Le’s restaurant, Banh Mi Ho Ma, till date. It is interesting how the Vietnamese transformed from being unworthy of bread to creating their own sandwich that has become popular in the US too.