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Ha Noi banh my has its own following

Update: May, 31/2015 - 08:37
Star-struck sandwich: After winning Master Chef Viet Nam 2014, Nhat used her new reputation to open up the banh my shop this April. Even though her prices are high, compared to other shops with equal bread quality, her sandwiches sell well every day. — VNS Photos Truong Vi

While HCM City and Hoi An seem to hog all the banh my attention, Ha Noi does not lag behind. It hosts several establishments that regular clients swear by, Ha Nguyen reports.

I will never forget Hoan Boulangeria's specialty banh my chuot (mouse baguette), which I first tried some years ago. The cute mouse-sized baguette sets it apart from the rest (no, there is no mouse in this French bread).

The bread, which is very crisp and exudes a sweet aroma, is very soft inside and is best eaten straight out of the oven. It gets even tastier when eaten with Hoan's famous pate, known for its nutty flavour.

For a long time I was a banh my chuot addict. In recent years, I have braved long queues just to buy the bread to take home. The bread used to cost VND1,000 each, but now its price ranges from VND2,000 to VND2,500.

I've overheard office workers curious about Hoan's baguettes talk about leaving their jobs early just to try to beat the queue.

The shop owner, Nguyen Hoan, was an employee of the Metropole Hotel before he broke off to open one of Ha Noi's most popular bread shops.

Before Hoan's baguettes surfaced in my life, I was a regular at a sandwich shop at Hue Street for decades. The sandwich has been around since 1974.

Word fo mouth: Banh my Pho Hue is small and carries no advertisement, but it is always crowded with regular customers.

It's the kind of sandwich that can stir up a late night craving. One time, during the middle of a cold winter night, I craved the sandwich so much that I woke my husband and asked him to go buy me one. Despite the cold, my husband rushed out and returned in 15 minutes with a Hueø Street sandwich. It was possibly the tastiest food I have ever eaten in Ha Noi.

The ever-varying combination of deli-style slices of pork, pate and veggie toppings like carrot, cilantro and cucumber are packed into a soft and crunchy baguette. The sandwich ranges around VND30,000 depending on your order.

During the past several years I've become a frequenter of a small street-side shop near Hom Market. What I like most about this place is the nom, which is like a Vietnamese coleslaw of grated turnip, cabbage, papaya cucumber and boiled lean pork. Other special ingredients in the nom are grated carrot, slices of hot chilly and roasted peanuts. All are mixed thoroughly before being soaked in vinegar, sugar, garlic, hot chilly and salt.

The shop is small and without any big advertisements on the wall, but it is always crowded with regular customers.

David Farley, a UK reporter, recently wrote that the bread at Hue Street is the "most fascinating sandwich" and one of the best Vietnamese street foods he has ever eaten.

In a slightly different market than Hoan's baguettes and Hue Street sandwiches, Minh Nhat's sandwich is the latest hotspot in the capital.

After winning Master Chef Viet Nam 2014, Nhat used her new reputation to open up the sandwich shop this April. Even though her prices are high, compared to other shops with equal bread quality, her sandwiches still sell well every day.

Ten-in-one: Banh my made from a collection of 10 different ingredients including ruoc (salted shredded meat), beef and pork dumpling, salted onions, veggies and pate is a speciality at Minh Nhat's shop.

On opening day, despite the hot weather, I joined the throngs of customers lining up to buy the new bread.

Standing in the queue only served to make my mouth water more, the aroma of freshly baked bread was taunting.

Even though Nhat is the owner, she still sells the bread herself. It was particularly nice to have her deliver the delicious banh my sate, or sandwich made with a her signature shrimp satay.

After finishing the banh my sateù, I asked the owner to make me several other styles of sandwich made from a collection of 10 different ingredients including ruoc (salted shredded meat), beef and pork dumpling, salted onions, veggies and pate. Nhat calls it banh my thap cam (mixed sandwich).

A student named Nguyen Quynh Nga from the University of Law said she woke up early in the morning to join the queue. She told me that she and her fellow students are interested in Nhat's sandwich because they are big fans of the Master Chef show and of the recent winner. They flock to her shop, despite its steep prices - ranging from VND32,000 to 220,000 - and sometimes being forced to sit outside the shop on backup plastic stools.

Banh my hotspots

Add: Banh my Hoan, 49 Tran Xuan Soan

Tel: 04-39429889

Prices: range from VND15,000 - 220,000

Add: Banh my Pho Hue, 119 Pho Hue

Tel: 04-38225009

Prices: VND25,000-45,000

Add: Banh my Minh Nhat, 27 Nguyen Du Street

Tel: 0948482626

Prices: VND32,000-130,000

Add: Banh my Hoi An (or Ngo) in Ha Noi, 34 Luong Ngoc Quyen, 39 Thai Phien and 38 Duy Tan streets.

Tel: 0904270589-0968270589 - 01252443333

Prices: VND20,000- 45,000

Comments: Delicious and ever-varying combinations of Vietnamese meats and veggies that constitute the nation's iconic sandwich.

Nhat says business is going well, selling about 700 sandwiches a day.

Don't like the above-mentioned options? Banh my Hoi An at the shop Banh My Ngo is also a popular choice for Ha Noi's gourmets who argue, perhaps hyperbolically, that the shop's food is the most tasty in Viet Nam.

Last week, my friend and I visited Banh My Ngo, located at 34B Luong Ngoc Quyen Street, and it was packed.

The loaf of French bread is small, about 20cm long, but it's worth it if only for the shop's special thick brown sauce that is slowly dripped across the bread so that it soaks deep into the sides. Between the slices of bread sit a collection of roast pork, pate, several pieces of ham, cucumbers and several kinds of herbs and spices such as coriander, basil, black pepper and Hoi An chili.

Eating it was so enjoyable that it was hard to contain myself. I ate two and would have eaten more if I could.

A customer sitting next to me said she also couldn't control her appetite. Passing by the shop, the aroma of the bread and special flavours "bewitched" her.

"I enjoy it for breakfast almost every morning. Now I've become an addict," she said. — VNS

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