Viet Nam News
Vietnamese people have long taken pride in their bánh mì, a dish named as one of the best street foods in the world by CNN (American Cable News Network), and listed in the Oxford English dictionary as ‘a Vietnamese snack consisting of a baguette (traditionally baked with both rice and wheat flour) filled with a variety of ingredients, typically including meat, pickled vegetables and chili sauce’.
Bánh mì, originally from France, has been adapted to suit Vietnamese tastes. In Hà Nội, a bánh mì features a baguette – airy on the inside and crusty on the outside – stuffed with a wide selection of ingredients, including beef, chicken, pork, egg, sausage and different kinds of herbs.
Among the different versions of bánh mì available in Việt Nam, the bánh mì cay (spicy bánh mì) of Hải Phòng may be the most humble, consisting of just a baguette, some pate and a squeeze of local chili sauce.
A spicy bánh mì is just a couple of fingers in width and is filled with an aromatic pate. The bread is drizzled with oil and baked over charcoal for a crusty finish. The snack costs between just VNĐ2,000 to VNĐ5,000 each. With a single US dollar, you could buy ten!
This cheap, convenient and tasty treat is particularly popular with students. Dropping by a little bánh mì cay shop on Lê Lợi or Hàng Kênh streets during school break time, one is sure to see groups of students in their uniforms waiting patiently for the sellers to take freshly baked baguettes from the oven.
In a modern and fast-paced city with tree-lined streets and old French architecture, these little eateries offering a humble dish are still regularly frequented by locals.
It is said that natives of Hải Phòng are not so fussy with their food. They pay most attention to the quality of the meal, rather than the space itself.
Bánh mì cay (spicy bánh mì), also known as bánh mì que (stick bánh mì, for its appearance as a long stick), is so popular in the port city of Hải Phòng that it has been named Hải Phòng bánh mì.
It is said that a woman named Hoàng Thị Toàn on Lê Lợi street came up with the original recipe some twenty years ago.
After all these years, her little banh mi shop still serves citizens, from students and parents to office workers and tourists. The place is often buzzing with activity, and some customers buy dozens of bread sticks to take home.
The eatery has an intriguing name – ‘Bà Già’ (Old Lady).
“Initially, we called it Vĩnh Khánh. As our business was pretty good and our bread was well-known among local people, neighbouring households began to sell similar bread using the same name to draw customers,” said Toàn.
“Customers used to call me Mrs Old Lady, so I decided that our shop should have that name too,” said Toàn.
Most spicy bánh mì sellers in Hải Phòng make the pate at home.
Pork skin is boiled and sliced and then ground with lean pork and liver. Dried onions and garlic are stir fried in boiling oil. The mixture of ground pork, skin and liver will be seasoned with salt, pepper, a bit of sugar and then stir-fried with the onion and garlic. The chef will then put a layer of pork fat at the bottom of a mould, spoon the mixture of pate on top and steam it for about five hours, explained Toàn.
“Good pate is smooth in texture, with pork evenly spread over the surface. The pate should be slightly pink in colour with white spots of pork fat. There should be flavours of liver and garlic,” said Toàn.
“One thing that makes Hải Phòng bánh mì different from those of other areas is the chili sauce. Locals make the sauce with a mixture of chili, tomatoes, garlic and salt,” said Toàn.
Nowadays spicy bánh mì shops and stalls can easily be found on the streets of Hàng Kênh or Cát Cụt, and in the Cột Đèn area.
“The bánh mì of Hải Phòng has become very famous. When I’m away from Hải Phòng, I miss it a lot; just thinking of the snack makes my mouth water. The thin baguette with tasty pate is baked and becomes crispy. With a little chili sauce the sense of Hải Phòng comes rushing back,” said Trần Thị Thu Ngân, 24, a native of Hải Phòng.
“Despite the heat, the more chili sauce, the better the treat is,” said Ngân.
“Every time I travel to Hải Phòng, I visit a spicy bánh mì shop and eat ten pieces. I even buy fifty or a hundred to take back home,” said Lê Tùng Lâm, 28, from Hà Nội.
Nem cua bể - a taste of the sea
Hải Phòng city is also famous for its seafood dishes, which include bánh đa cua (Hải Phòng noodle soup with crab), bún cá (vermicelli soup with fish), squid and different kinds of snails. Among them, nem cua bể (crab spring roll) is a highlight.
The ingredients of crab spring rolls comprise crab meat, minced pork, egg, mushrooms, bean sprouts, carrots, onions and vermicelli noodles.
The mixture is rolled in rice paper and is then fried in boiling oil until it becomes crispy.
The treat is enhanced when combined with another local specialty from Cát Hải island – fish sauce, which has been selected as one of Việt Nam’s top condiments by the Việt Nam Guinness Book of Records. VNS
Bánh mì cay can be found at:
50 Lê Lợi street.
137 Đinh Tiên Hoàng street.
26 Trần Hưng Đạo street.
Cột Đèn-Tô Hiệu crossroad
152C Triệu Việt Vương street.
14 Nhà Chung street.
64A Quán Sứ street.
Nem cua bể is served at:
87 Cát Cụt street.
372 Lạch Tray street.
117 Bùi Thị Xuân street.
35 Đào Duy Từ street.