Pound for pound, there's only one sandwich that can lay claim to the title of world's most ubiquitous... the bánh mì. This little baguette-based super sandwich isn't only stuffed with tasty meat, pâté and perfect pickled vegetables – it's steeped in history too.
During the French occupation of Vietnam, food played a pretty important role in the colonial power structure – European food was for Europeans, and local food for locals. But that all changed during the First World War, when the French headed home to the battlefield and Vietnam was suddenly awash with French produce. That made it cheaper and more accessible, and nobody who got a taste was going to give it up without a fight.
Nationalism was on the rise, and that manifested itself in Vietnamese food culture too. What better way to challenge authority and subvert the rules than to attack one of the cornerstones of French culture: their food. The first target was their penchant for a crispy baguette, served with imported cold cuts and pâté, which found itself morphing into a distinctly Vietnamese sandwich.
Cold cuts were too hard to get, so they were replaced with easily sourced local pork. Pâté still made the grade, but the sandwich still needed some extra local flavour. Enter the wide variety of vegetables from the diverse Vietnamese countryside; cucumber, coriander, pickled carrots, daikon – even juicy tomato slices. The bánh mì was born.
After the Vietnam war, mass emigration from South Vietnam put the bánh mì on the world stage. If you're eating a bánh mì outside Vietnam today, you're probably enjoying it Southern style – that means a bigger baguette, crammed full with herbs and veggies.
Conversely, in the North, they prefer to keep things simple – but every element of the sandwich has a purpose. The pork soaks up the sauce, the pâté keeps the bread moist, and the lightly-toasted baguettes are well equipped to survive the natural humidity. They do say that necessity is the mother of invention.
Now, there's no limit to where you can pick up one of these bundles of baguette-based joy. Whatever you fill yours with, every time you take a bite, you're eating a rare piece of history.
If you want to order in a super sandwich of your own, check out our Vietnamese selection on Deliveroo.