The Evolution of Banh Mi

One of my fondest memories of coaching The Daughter’s volleyball team was at a long tournament where we had a potluck lunch of tasty Filipino and Vietnamese food (the team was mostly Asian).  Not just standard fare like lumpia but other stuff like ukoy, pate chaud, and bánh mì!  Some of the other teams at the tournament looked at us funny.  I figured that they were probably were either jealous, hungry, or both.

For those who don’t know, bánh mì is a Vietnamese sandwich.  It blends elements of French food, such as a baguette and pate, with different kinds of pork, sliced peppers, and vegetables.  I love bánh mì, especially how it is typically served on freshly baked bread.  I am definitely not the only fan – check out, a web site dedicated toward these wonderful sandwiches.

This article from the New York Times talks about how bánh mì has evolved in the US and incorporated popular local elements such as kielbasa in New York and  po boy baguettes in Louisiana.  A notable quote about some of the New York creations, in particular a phở flavored bánh mì:

“I could never get away with this in San Jose,” said Mr. Hua, referring to the city with a large Vietnamese-American community in Northern California, where he grew up. “New York has a history of being open to creative ideas.

This San Jose resident can’t agree.  Bánh mì is at its core a fusion, and there are what seems to be a growing number of fusion Vietnamese restaurants in San Jose and the Bay Area.

An underlying question to this discussion is  authenticity – how much can something Asian be changed and still be considered to be Asian?  What is a fascinating fusion and what is unrecognizable bastardization of the original?  For me, as long as a sandwich keeps the freshly baked bread and the Vietnamese vegetables and herbs, it is still bánh mì.

(Hat tip:  Tim ; photo credit: kennymatic)

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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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