Nov 24 2012
Google “best banh mi in Vietnam” and the answer you get is Banh Mi Phuong in Hoi An; go there and I promise you will be met by a random tourist saying “I’ve travelled all the way from Australia/the UK/Finland for this.” Phuong’s little banh mi shop near the Cam Nam Bridge has been on the map since American chef Anthony Bourdain swept through town and sang its praises.
Was he right? Hell yeah! Phuong has been serving up the most delicious banh mi in Hoi An – perhaps the world — for more than 20 years. She gets up each and every day to prepare the most delectable melt-in-the-mouth thit heo (barbecue pork), pate and cured hams and her piece de resistance? A secret home-made dressing that will leave your taste buds singing with joy.
It’s very tempting to describe in immense detail every last bite of what Boudain described as a symphony in a sandwich but with bahn mi’s international popularity you all know what goes in it; just imagine the best one you ever tasted and multiply the taste sensation by about 100 and you’ll be right. And Phuong’s story is just as inspiring as the food she serves up every day.
Phuong’s little enterprise started shortly before doi moi, when Vietnam first opened its doors to tourism. Hoi An was still recovering from the after-effects of the war, poverty was widespread and the mobile street food vendors’ role was one of the most important, providing cheap balanced meals to workers short on time and funds.
Phuong took a space in the old market, she told us, getting up at 03:00 every morning to prepare the pork and condiments ready for her first customers of the day while her younger sister baked the crisp banh mi, delivering them in batches throughout the day. She soon became one of Hoi An’s busiest food stalls.
The most amazing thing about Phuong’s simple banh mi stall is that little has changed other than her address; she is now ensconced in a permanent tin roof wooden stall at the entrance to the main local market. Her recipe and 03:00 start are exactly the same.
Another change is that she now sources her bread from a bakery around the corner and her sister, alongside four other members of her family, now work in shifts to support her hugely popular stall, providing the perfect production line team to present you with your order within seconds.
What should you order? Although Phuong has embraced new bahn mi trends – she does a delicious pork hamburger — her most popular dish is her original bahn mi kep thit heo, four types of pork, fresh herbs, salad and the magic dressing coming in at just 15,000 VND. Go for Bourdain’s bahn mi deluxe and she will pile it high with a perfectly fried egg on top for 20,000 VND.
For vegetarians she does an incredible banh mi opla for just 10,000 VND. It’s so good you will wear the smudged egg yolk you’ve dribbled down your top with pride for the rest of your day. One last tip: although Phoung’s stall is take-away, she has the usual miniature plastic table and a couple of stools. If they are free, take a pew and get involved. It’s great fun and at least you won’t need to move far to order seconds.
Banh Mi Phuong
By the market entrance on Hoang Dieu St, Hoi An
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