Banh Mi - Vietnamese Sandwiches
Completed Cold Cut Sandwich Banh Mi is perhaps the clearest and longest lasting legacy of French Indochina (1887 - 1954). Its origin is much clearer than that of the other 20th century cross-cultural icon of Vietnam, the soup known as Pho.

The French introduced the baguette and other forms of French bread to Vietnam in the late 19th century. This was something entirely new, as the type of wheat needed for puffy bread was unknown in the region. It was originally called "Banh Tay" (French Bread), but by 1945 it was called "Banh Mi" (Wheat Bread). So tightly are they associated, Banh Mi is also the name of the sandwiches made from this bread.

This page mainly treats Banh Mi sandwiches quickly and easily made from Vietnamese ingredients readily available in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. That condition may not prevail in some regions. Instructions for making many of these ingredients yourself are found in Andrea Quynhgiao Nguyen's The Banh Mi Handbook, along with many other sorts of Banh Mi than what we have here. We highly recommend this book. Ten Speed Press, ISBN 978-1-60774-533-4 (hc), 978-1-60774-534-1 (ebook).

CG Home

Recipes by Use

Recipes by


In austere North Vietnam Banh Mi began very simply - a small roll with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and a spread of pâté or a little sliced meat. It is in the more decadent South Vietnam, particularly Saigon, that the wonderfully diverse Banh Mi sandwiches we know today came to be.These sandwiches are made in many ways, with an incredible array of fillings, vegetables, pickles, herbs and spices, and in the United States, home to the largest Vietnamese community outside Vietnam, they have become even more diverse.

The Build
Below is a typical assembly for a simple sandwich quickly made from available ingredients readily at hand. The photos are from my favorite quick Banh Mi, but most Banh Mi follow this same sequence with minor modifications as required by the ingredients. With the ingredients at hand, the example Banh Mi takes just 8 minutes to make, and is, in my opinion, absurdly delicious.

French Roll Given the origin of these sandwiches, French baguettes and rolls are a natural, but other breads can be used if they have the proper characteristics. They should be light and airy, with very thin, preferably somewhat brittle crusts and a soft, springy and slightly sweet interior. Today, in North America, slider buns, kaiser rolls and toasted breads are also sometimes used.

Unacceptable are dense "artisan breads" with thick crusts and strongly flavored grains.

Spread & Sprinkle
Split Roll with Spread First the roll is cut open, but leaving a hinge on one side. I find a thin, razor sharp Santoku vegetable slicing knife works far better on bread than serrated bread knives. Some crumb may be removed from the top half to make room for vegetables.

Next, the entire cut surface is spread with Mayonnaise. After the spread I apply a generous sprinkle of Magi Seasoning (brown splotches) which is included in most Banh Mi sandwiches. I also add quite a few dollops of Sriracha Sauce. This ingredient is included only by personal preference, and, yes, I like a lot of it.

----------   In Vietnam, European style salted butter is also often used, though Mayonnaise predominates. A newer innovation is to spread it with mashed Avocado (once known as "midshipman's butter"). Flavored mayonnaise spreads are another alternative.

Home made Mayo is best, at least here in "over regulated" California, but more risky in "business friendly" Red States. Nearly all food writers agree: the commercial mayo to use is Best Foods "Real Mayonnaise" (west of the Mississippi) or Hellmann's "Real Mayonnaise" (east of the Mississippi and Canada). In any case, it should be the full fat version. Don't worry about it, the "low fat diet" never worked and has recently been revealed to have been a secret marketing campaign by the sugar industry.

Main Filling Layer
Split Roll with Main Filling Next goes in the Main Filling. In this case it's Cold Cuts, and in this case specifically Vietnamese Head Cheese (Gio Thu). I use various Vietnamese cold cuts, and sometimes cod cuts taht aren't Vietnamese - depends on what's on hand. For some examples of Vietnamese cold cuts, see our page Vietnamese Sausages page.

----------   Many different fillings are used in Vietnam - most are cold, but also warm fillings are used. Traditional fillings include grilled Chicken, grilled Pork or grilled Beef. Seafood fillings are also used. Vietnamese in North America have expanded the fillings list considerably, even as far as Andrea Nguyen's Oyster Po'boy, Sloppy Joe and Korean Beef and Kimchi Banh Mi.

Vegetarian fillings are available, such as omelet, tempeh and mushrooms, whole or sliced. There are a number of tofu products that will work, particularly pressed tofu seasoned and baked. For suggestions see our Tofu / Bean Curd page. Also wheat gluten based products can be stewed, seasoned or otherwise prepared for this use. See our Wheat Gluten page.

Vegetable Layer
Split Roll with Vegetable Layer My vegetable layer is most often just Red Onion, but you can use whatever crisp fresh vegetables you'd like, just one, or several.

---------   Other vegetables you can use include thin sticks of Carrot and Daikon Radish, sliced Fresno or Jalapeno Chilis, strips of red or green Bell Peppers, sliced grape tomatoes, Scallions, etc.

Pickle Layer
Split Roll with Pickle Layer Some crisp, tangy pickles are added next to round out the blend of flavors. My favorite is Pickled Red Cabbage, so it's what I usually have on hand.

----------   Many pickles are used. The ones we have recipes for here are:
Red Cabbage Pickle.
Daikon & Carrot Pickle.
Shallot Pickle.
Snow Vegetable   a natural pickle made similarly in Vietnam.

Packaged Asian Mustard Green pickles and European Sauerkraut could also be used. Asian markets serving a strong Vietnamese community will have jars of various pickles, including Leeks and Shallots that can be sliced and used in Banh Mi.

Cucumber & Herb Layer
Split Roll with Cucumber and Herb Layers Cucumbers are often the last layer, because their thin flatness helps you pack down the other ingredients, and helps keep them under control. While any kind of cucumber can be used, I always use Persians, which need not be peeled or seeded. Due to our ethnic mix in Los Angeles produce markets here always have mountains of these. Because they are small I slice them on a sharp diagonal.

Many, many fresh herbs are used in Vietnam. Cilantro is probably the most used, but my strong favorite for these sandwiches is Dill. This is not "authentic", because the Vietnamese don't usually use Dill raw.

Finished Banh Mi
Finished Roll Closed Close it up and you're ready to go!

Finished and Cut Banh Mi
Finished Roll Closed and Cut The sandwich can be cut in half for convenience of serving and/or eating. These sandwiches are very well behaved, and their ingredients stay inside, so long as you have a reasonably firm grip on them.

Finished and Cut Party Banh Mi
Cut Roll in Clamshell Banh Mi can be made in long thin French baguettes and cut into segments for party service. The one described above keeps very well, even overnight, packaged in plastic clamshells and refrigerated. Some others may not keep as well if they have too much moisture. The 8 x 8 inch clamshells are available at Smart and Final and other restaurant supply stores.

Again, I use a very thin, razor sharp Santoku vegetable slicing knife rather than a serrated bread knife. Serrated knives tend to tear rather than cut.

swx_banhmi1 170403 bmh & var   -
©Andrew Grygus - - Photos on this page not otherwise credited © cg1 - Linking to and non-commercial use of this page permitted