Take a bready bite into Viet­nam’s his­tory

Wanderlust Travel Magazine (UK) - - 360˚ Need To Know -

Some foods are meant to be. Case in the point: Viet­nam’s hum­ble banh mi sand­wich. It may be scant com­fort for decades of colo­nial rule – as part of French In­dochina (1887– 1954) – but lo­cals adopted their in­vader’s affin­ity for bak­ing, the de­lights of which were then passed on to vis­i­tors.

In those dark days, bread was re­served for Viet­nam’s colo­nial rulers. Only af­ter most of the French left to fight in the First World War did it take off here. For­eign in­gre­di­ents – cold meats, may­on­naise and paté – were adapted to lo­cal tastes with co­rian­der, pick­les, daikon and cu­cum­ber, and the banh mi was born.

Soon, this sim­ple meal started to fil­ter down the classes, and by the time Viet­nam gained in­de­pen­dence it was the king of road­side eat­ing. Tour the coun­try to­day and you’ll find fill­ings are as flex­i­ble as they are nu­mer­ous. Up north, in Hanoi, they love a meat feast of pork and paté, while veg­gies and herbs spill out of baguettes in coastal Hoi An ( see right), and in the south it’s the full works.

Lo­cals have even tin­kered with the dough, mix­ing na­tive rice flour with Euro­pean wheat, mak­ing the bread stronger and all the bet­ter for pil­ing up fill­ings. And in the fall­out from the Viet­nam War, mil­lions fled abroad, tak­ing their prize snack with them – rather fit­tingly, it even found its way as far as France.

To­day, banh mi is the poster snack of Viet­namese street food, adopted by lo­cals and trav­ellers alike. It’s a cre­ation of many lay­ers – in ev­ery sense – and noth­ing sums up Viet­nam’s past and present quite like it.

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