After seeing a sign in Dalat that said Bánh Mì Hamburger, it hit me how similar bánh mì in Vietnam is to hamburgers in North America. Hamburgers are a beloved part of North American fast food culture. If you did a Quest for Yummy Burgers through North America, you might first expect to see a lot of cheap, cardboard-tasting, fast food burgers like at McDonald’s or White Castle at every corner. Or even tasty fast food burgers but only because they are fatty or full of sauce. Then as you dug deeper you would find that there are all kinds of mom and pop shops, diners and high-end restaurants that serve burgers with real meat. You would find burgers that cost anywhere between $1 and $100. You would find variations in toppings, bun types, and the patty itself. Some restaurants make their own bun or sauces or patties. Most people will look at you funny and not understand why you’re spending months learning about burgers. Many will share their opinion on their favourite toppings. And some will actually introduce you to the local hole-in-the-wall or restaurant to try the best burger they’ve ever had. Owners will happily talk about what’s so special and how they made it.
Similarly, bánh mì is the beloved fast food in Vietnam. Bánh mì carts are on every corner in every village and town. Many buy processed prepackaged ingredients and most do not make their own bread. Some places are famous because of their mayonnaise, patê, cold cuts or grilled meats. Others are known for their crispy spongy bread or for their soft thin bread. The bánh mì costs as low as 5000 dong to as high as 100,000 dong. ($0.25 to $5). The toppings and ways to eat bánh mì are endless. Most people could not understand why I traveled all this way to write a book about bánh mì but everyone was happy to share their insight. As I went continued on my trip, I found myself not only interested in bánh mì but in learning and sharing other strange and delicious Vietnamese food. I also became engrossed in the nature, culture and food philosophy of the country I was born in. Many tourists asked me along the way to eat with them or recommend what to do, where to go and what to eat. Many friends have approached me asking for my opinion as well. So I diligently took photos and tried to summarize what I liked about each place I visited and what I learned. I hope you find it useful.
Vietnamese Translation was published in VietSun Magazine in 2013.