Bánh Mì: A Fusion of East and West

DoorDash San Francisco
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Crispy duck from Cafe Bunn Mi

Bánh mì might be hard to pronounce but it's never hard to eat. Whether it’s a fried chicken sandwich or a grilled cheese, San Francisco’s love of sandwiches is something everyone can relate to. However, while sandwiches come in many forms, some are too good to be lumped in with the rest. Enter, the bánh mì.


So, what does “Bánh mì'' mean? It's the Vietnamese name for bread. It refers to everything from a bánh mì sandwich to a piece of white toast. A typical bánh mì has fillings like chả lụa (pork sausage), pate, cilantro, cucumber, pickled carrots, and daikon. A melody of diverse flavors that always makes us want more. Vietnamese ingredients are sandwiched between French ingredients like a wheat baguette and a spread of pâté or mayo. The magic ingredient that gives the sandwich its umami flavor is maggi sauce, a meat-flavored seasoning that lands somewhere between soy and Worcestershire sauce. The sandwich stands as one of the ultimate examples of the culinary fusion between East and West and as a symbol that embodies Vietnam's history.

Bánh mì vendor in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), 1998

The crispy baguette, the base of the sandwich, was first introduced to Vietnam by the French. Later, Vietnamese sandwich-makers adapted it with local ingredients. The warm meats and bread contrast with cooling pickled vegetables, jalapenos, and cilantro, resulting in a refreshing, clean, and never too heavy sandwich. Traveling to Vietnam, you can enjoy a bánh mì from many street vendors and convenience stores. One of the most popular is bánh mì đặc biệt (the special combo sandwich) which has an assortment of sliced meats and veggies.

Today, cafes and restaurants across the city serve this iconic Vietnamese sandwich (and we thank them for it). You can find many family-owned spots serving you different varieties of their best bánh. Most will have at least a few different types, so you can always go back and try something new.


If you’re hoping to pick up some bánh mì in San Francisco, check these places out:

Tin Vietnamese Cuisine

SOMA, San Francisco

This family-run eatery has all your bánh mì needs covered. Owner Hung Dang named it after his nephew, but 'tín' is also the Vietnamese word for 'dependable' - precisely what you can expect from their food. Whether it's their crunchy baguette, silky tofu, juicy five-spice chicken, or beloved turmeric catfish, this spot will always keep you coming back for more.

Cafe Bunn Mi

Inner Richmond, San Francisco

Cafe Bunn Mi is a sandwich-and-soup joint on Clement Street whose duck sandwich is beloved by locals and visitors alike. Their duck bánh mì is breaded, fried, and served with Vietnamese-style coleslaw. The duck is crispy, the baguette is airy, and the coleslaw is refreshing. A culinary experience everyone needs in their life.


Saiwalks

Marina/Cow Hollow, San Francisco

Casual, abundant, and delicious, this Marina spot is known for all three. Get their crispy catfish or grilled natural chicken thigh — there are no wrong choices. They're served on a fluffy French baguette stuffed with homemade mayo, cucumber, tomatoes, carrot, cilantro, jalapeno, and a side of edamame. 

Mr Banh Mi

Richmond District, San Francisco

This neighborhood restaurant is famous for its stuffed bánh mì, full of various types of meat, tofu, vegetables, and mayonnaise. The airy bread pairs perfectly with their deep-fried and hearty tofu. Make sure you add a fried egg, and you’re set.


Little Vietnam Cafe

Inner Richmond, San Francisco

You can't go wrong with this small family-run bánh mì spot. They have been serving home-cooked dishes since they first opened in 2006. You can get their sandwiches with grilled chicken, ham, pork, or tofu - all served on a piece of bread with a flaky crust and plenty of cucumber and pickled carrots.

If the story behind bánh mì has gotten you hooked on Vietnamese cuisine, then keep an eye out for more origin stories as we travel through the world's culinary map.

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