Hanoi is full of iconic foods, and of all the dishes to result from the French influence on the local cuisines, Vietnamese Banh Mi is still the undisputed king. Choosing the best Banh Mi to try while you’re in Hanoi can be overwhelming, scrolling through all those recommendations and mouthwatering photos would take eons. And seriously, you’re passing by as a visitor, the best experience is what you’re looking for.
That’s why I have recommended this only one outlet, right on the sidewalk in the old quarter, where you’ll find the best Banh Mi in the city center of Hanoi. Since you will walk or drive through several streets in the bustling old quarter, it’s helpful to have a glance at my article providing background information about Hanoi’s Old Quarter here.
Now for those who haven’t heard about Banh Mi before, it’s an airy French baguette with a thin crunchy crust that the Vietnamese stuffs in with cornucopia of roast chicken or pork, homemade pork-liver pâté, headcheese, cured ham, pickled daikon radish, carrot, a generous sprinkling of cilantro leaves, slices of cucumber and chili pepper, a few dashes of mixed fish sauce, and a light spread of mayonnaise. A combination of those ingredients, the spicy, salty, sour, savory, aromatic, and sweet made a bite into a well stacked Vietnamese sandwich a moment of rapture.
The origin of Banh Mi is France. Following its colonization from 1887, the French brought into Vietnam the language, their food, and eventually the baguette – the long thin loaf of bread that became popular in France in the early 20th century. My mum said grandma called it Banh Tay, literally Western-style cake, and from the 1950s people started calling it Banh Mi – simply wheat cake.
In Vietnam, Banh Mi is actually a food staple of working poor, banh mi outlets and carts are everywhere on the streets, providing simple and delicious sustenance for breakfast and midday meal. Banh Mi was a street food that people barely think of long before street food became an obsession with foodies, especially foreign tourists.
To try the best Banh Mi in Hanoi, you must go to Banh Mi 25 at 25 Hang Ca street, Hoan Kiem District. The outlet opens from 7am to 7pm, fairly wait is a must since this place is popular among the tourists. Don't expect fine dining, and for non-adventurous foodie this is great. Their Banh Mi is nicely toasted, mostly arrives within 7 mins of order.
At Banh Mi 25, a charcoal-baked shinny baguette is stuffed with variety of filling including barbecued pork and char siu, sausage, cured French ham, and especially home-made pork liver pâté. Their banh mi is always topped off with an assortment of pickled vegetables, cilantro, and a home-made sauce extracted from the cooking juices off the grilled pork.
Ha Minh Phuong, a former travel agent who ditched his deskbound job in favor of taking over his family’s business, which has been around for nearly 80 years. Perched in front of a traditional tube house of the old quarter, it’s not just a simple sandwich outlet – there’s a handful of wooden folding tables and plastic chairs spilling out onto the sidewalk right in the heart of Hang Ca street.
“I don’t have to worry about rent and I can put my family’s experience to good use”, Phuong replied when he was asked why he decided to run a sandwich shop.
Phuong’s father honed his skills of making bread and meat from the French, and his zealously guarded recipe is now passed down to Phuong, who reworked the traditional ingredients and took the banh mi upmarket. His staffs are very friendly and attentive, like this smily bartender.
I suppose you like that welcoming service too.