Heading to Vietnam, I couldn’t have been more excited for the coffee.
I’d heard tale of good vegetarian food, but was also weary having visited Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. I managed to find good vegetarian eats in all three, but really had to work for it.
One thing I really wanted to find?
Great vegetarian banh mi.
In Vietnam, people eat banh mi for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Walking through any of the country’s major cities, the omnipresent buzz of motorbikes fills the air, and on many street corners, you’ll find vendors hawking banh mi.
If you eat meat, you’ll have no problem finding excellent banh mi. In fact, there’s so much banh mi, you should research where to find the best banh mi in each city you visit. There’s no reason to have bad banh mi when there’s so much great banh mi out there.
Banh Mi Basics
Banh mi dates back to the French colonial period, literally translating to ‘wheat cake’. Now, it’s come to mean a type of sandwich with mostly Vietnamese ingredients.
Bread makes or breaks the banh mi. Some of my favourite places bake on site, and others buy from the best bakers in the each city. The bread is always fresh.
What else is in banh mi?
It depends- usually pork, pate, coriander, mayonnaise, cucumber, pickled carrots, and maybe cheese, daikon, or jalapeno. Also, usually fresh herbs, and always chili oil or slices.
Originally, banh mi was food for commoners. But now, they’re so popular, everyone eats them.
And, they’re usually dirt cheap. The banh mi I ate ranged from $1-4 USD per sandwich. Most banh mi you find on the street will be $1 USD or less.
The banh mi I ate that was on the higher end of the spectrum was what you’d call, artisanal. More on that in a moment.
For those who don’t eat pork or pate, you’ll be delighted to know there is vegetarian banh mi. Usually, with egg or tofu.
The unfortunate bit is that most street carts don’t offer vegetarian options, especially those on the streets.
The best vegetarian banh mi I found was in small restaurants- the kind of places that were a bit more modern than your average banh mi place. Hoi An was the only exception to this, with excellent vegetarian banh mi at two of the city’s best joints.
Where to Find the Best Vegetarian Banh Mi in Vietnam
In Hanoi, I tried a vegan banh mi from Vegan Banh Mi, but didn’t love it. I wasn’t wild about the pate texture, and felt it lacked flavour overall.
Controversial opinion, but my favourite banh mi was at Banh Mi 25. I say it’s controversial because Banh Mi 25 is pretty modern- always packed with visitors. Although, I’ve seen locals grab takeaway, too.
I came here almost every day I was in Hanoi after discovering it. There were FIVE types of vegetarian banh mi on the menu- egg, egg with cheese, tofu, mushroom, vegetable- it was incredible. The breakfast banh mi (egg and cheese), paired with coconut coffee was the stuff brunch dreams are made of.
On all of their banh mi, you’ll find pickled carrots, cucumber, coriander and chili sauce.
If I’m ever back in Hanoi, my first stop will be here for a breakfast banh mi. It’s that good.
Oh, Hoi An. A place I fell in love with, not just because it was historic and charming. But also, because there were two ace places for vegetarian banh mi.
Banh Mi Phuong
Hailed as Anthony Bourdain’s favourite, there are usually queues down the street. I came late one night (~ 8 pm) and was glad to see the line wasn’t too long.
Here, I tried a banh mi with cheese and egg. It was delicious, but not as good as Banh Mi 25. I liked the pickled vegetables and chili sauce Banh Mi 25 used over what Banh Mi Phuong added.
That doesn’t mean it wasn’t good though- it was excellent. If I returned, I’d try the tofu banh mi in a heartbeat.
And, if you eat meat, the real draw here, of course, is the pate banh mi.
Banh Mi Queen
Ah, my favourite banh mi in Hoi An. The crusty banh mi at Madame Khanh are packed with egg (in my case), veggies and sauce. There was just the right amount of everything and it was deliciously messy.
The banh mi queen herself helps make the sandwiches. Even though she’s 80, you’ll spot her serving what I believe is the best banh mi in Hoi An.
My Banh Mi
Central (near the cathedral and post office) with incredible vegetarian banh mi?
I found this place on my first day in Sai Gon, and came almost every day for their tofu banh mi. If My Banh Mi was my favourite breakfast in Vietnam, then this tofu banh mi was my favourite dinner.
Despite costing what normal banh mi costs ($3-4 USD), it’s worth every penny.
A crisp baguette packed with salty-spicy tofu, pickled vegetables, red chili, coriander and mellow cucumber crunch.
Actually drooling just writing about it.
Would 10/10 visit Sai Gon again just to have this banh mi.
Another great banh mi I had in Sai Gon was on a motorbike food tour. From Banh Mi 24, it was filled with egg and your usual accompaniments.
The reason it was so good?
The bread is baked 24 hours a day on site. Nothing beats bread fresh from the oven when it comes to banh mi.
Have you ever been to Vietnam? Or, have you tried banh mi where you live (if there are Vietnamese restaurants)?