Vietnamese bakeries are the bánh mì masters. Bread is baked on site daily, its freshness as pivotal as the pork it will house.
Brought by the French, along with decades of colonial rule, bread was known locally as bánh tay, meaning foreign cake. The French would take theirs with butter or pâté and ham, or condensed milk, while the Vietnamese were precluded by its price.
It wasn’t until the French left Vietnam in 1954 that bánh tay transitioned to bánh mì, and, with a few game-changing modifications, became a pillar of Vietnamese street food over the decades following.
Rice flour was added to the dough, lending the bread its distinct flaky crust and light, fluffy inside. Butter and pâté stayed on as staples, but welcomed new players to the flavour profile such as fresh-made mayonnaise, coriander, pickled carrot and daikon, chilli and cucumber to complement the hot meat component.
Australia’s 1970s influx of Vietnamese refugees wove the South-East Asian country’s culture and cuisine through Australia’s own. Today it’s difficult to imagine our cities devoid of South-East Asian influence – ‘bland’ springs to mind.
During a recent field trip to Melbourne’s Little Saigon Market in Footscray, the Smudge Eats team indulged in a 10 out of 10 bánh mì from Nhu Ngoc Bakery. We watched mouths watering as Han, expert assembler, sliced open a baguette straight from the giant oven, and proceeded to pack it with freshly sliced barbeque pork and bánh mì’s other standard essentials.
There is a downside to bánh mì: once a devotee, it’s near impossible to enjoy lunch that comes in any other form. Not only are the world’s best flavours wrapped up in a fresh-baked, fluffy white roll (and speedily!), but most ridgy-didge Vietnamese bakeries charge between $4 and $6 for this unbeatable meal. In a city that’ll sting you $4.50 for a soy latte, or $6.95 for a birthday card, that’s a near-insane price point for something so epically satisfying.
Where to get your bánh mì fix around Melbourne:
Nhu Ngoc Bakery
5/63-67 Nicholson St, Footscray
Nhu Lan Bakery
116 Hopkins Street
220 Smith Street
Trang Bakery and Café
382 Smith Street
N Tran Bakery
263 Chapel Street
Hot Bread Springvale
222 Springvale Road
174 Victoria Street
By Olivia Finlayson