Friday, February 5, 2010

Nam Do Bakery and Banh My Ilu - Hanoi, Vietnam

I think I discovered banh mi sandwiches pretty late in life, but I've been trying my best to make up for lost time by eating them every chance I get. I remember trying my first banh mi sandwich and being amazed by how the oddly juxtaposed ingredients and flavors could be so good. Hot and cold, sweet and acidic, crunchy and soft, cooked and raw, buttery and zesty. So many contradiction, yet it makes perfect sense when I'm eating it.

The sandwich's humble beginning stem from French colonialism, resulting in a melange of French ingredients, the baguette, pate and mayo with fresh and local Vietnamese ingredients like chili peppers, fish sauce, cilantro and mint. I personally like mine with barbecued pork and lots of pickled daikon and carrots, cilantro and jalapenos for that extra crunch and heat.

Jung and I were really excited to try banh mi in Hanoi. We already love to eat banh mi's in the states, so the banh mi's in Hanoi had to be amazing, right? What we found however was that typical banh mi (note, it's spelled banh my in Hanoi) is a fried egg or pâté sandwich with a few slices of cucumber, tomato and a light smearing of chili sauce that you get along the streets, like below.

We saw this street vendor near our hotel so we stopped by to get a sandwich and see what it was like.

We didn't get to see her make the sandwich because the stove was at the back of the store, but once Jung opened it up for me to take a picture, we noticed that it had some brownish sauce (maybe Maggi sauce), cucumbers, tomatoes and an egg omelet. The bread looked enormous at first, but it's quite airy so once you hold the sandwich down and take a bite, the insides deflate pretty quickly. It was good, but it was not what we were expecting at all. I thought it would have the crunch of a French baguette, but it was a lot more chewy, more like a roll than a baguette.

My guess is that the banh mys that we have in the states have morphed to adapt to more Western tastes, but this is the traditional way it's eaten in Hanoi. It could be totally different in other parts of Vietnam. It's probably really different in Saigon.

I thought it was weird that while I was doing my research on places to eat, I didn't see much on good eateries for banh my. But I did see banh my doner kebabs being mentioned a fair amount. It's just what the name implies, a banh my and a doner kebab that procreated. The sandwich uses doner kebab, the Turkish shaved pork, along with some other vegetables and chili and tzatziki sauce.

We read that Banh My Ilu was one such place serving up these tasty sandwiches. So Jung and I came here for our afternoon snack, part deux. The shop is painted in a cheery bubblegum pink color, it's hard to miss.

We came here after roaming around the city, so around mid-afternoon. We wanted to get two banh my doner kebabs but they ran out of bread or something so they only had enough for one sandwich. We ended up sharing a sandwich, which turned out for the best, because we didn't love it all that much.

It was interesting, but this too didn't have pickled vegetables, rather had lettuce, tomato and cucumbers, chili peppers and cilantro in it. The NYT article mentioned two other eateries for banh my doner kebabs and perhaps those might have been better picks. We didn't have time to investigate and weren't all that impressed by banh my sandwiches to divert our attention away from the other foods we wanted to try. We chose this one because it happened to be along our route for our next eatery. hehe.

Try Banh My Van (306 Ba Trieu Street) and Cafe Goethe (58 Nguyen Thai Hoc Street) for the banh my doner kebabs and let me know what you think.

Nam Do Bakery

71 Hang Bac (in Old Quarter)

Shop Ilu

178 Kim Ma Street (this is west of Old Quarter)


  1. yeah even though those places were way different than my fav banh mi spot in sf (Saigon Sandwich), i still thought it was delicioso because the sandwich seriously melts in your mouth because it's so fluffy

  2. That's true, it was very fluffy. I'm glad you liked it. We should try making banh mi sandwiches at home. I have a recipe!

  3. how interesting...that they didn't use pickled's not banh mi without it! :)

  4. but to be honest, the overall food in Hanoi pales in comparison to Saigon..or even out here in Little Saigon, CA... partly it's the economy of ingredients in the north..

  5. I agree, pickled veggies are a must! I can definitely see that about the economy playing a part in the ingredients. So do you have a favorite banh mi place in Little Saigon, CA? Happy Tet! I was trying to convince my friends to go down to Little Saigon this weekend to celebrate Tet, but they rejected me. haha. I'll be celebrating in spirit though. =)