Dining

Banh Mi

A contrast in flavors—and cultures—defines this traditional Vietnamese sandwich.

September 2011

If there’s one thing I remember about walking through the gritty streets of Ho Chi Minh City—better known to Americans as Saigon—it’s the smell of street food. These sidewalk “eateries”—sometimes nothing more than a stand with a few crates, a cooler, and one gas burner—emit the enchanting fragrances of beef noodle soup (pho), fried Imperial rolls (chà giò) with dipping sauce (nuoc cham), and banh mi sandwiches.

Vietnamese cuisine made its way stateside decades ago, but only recently has the banh mi been popularized. This unique sandwich, born from the French colonization of Indochina, uses both Vietnamese and French ingredients. In Denver, mostly along Federal Boulevard’s Asian corridor near Alameda Avenue, you can find many variations on this slightly sweet, slightly salty—and always inexpensive—sandwich. Here, we break down the woefully underappreciated banh mi.