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Vietnamese ‘banh mi’: From international cuisine culture to national brand equity

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An international scientific conference took place in Ho Chi Minh City on Tuesday to discuss the historical journey of Vietnamese banh mi and its role in tourism development.

Titled ‘Vietnamese Banh Mi’s Voyage: From International Cuisine Culture to National Brand quity,’ the conference was held by the World Association of Master Chefs – Vietnam Chapter in collaboration with Thanh Nien Newspaper, Van Lang University, and Saigontourist Travel Service Company.

The event aimed to celebrate the development of banh mi, a Vietnamese dish which has become famous worldwide, as well as to promote Vietnamese culture and boost local tourism.

It gathered around 1,000 participants, including speakers, researchers, nearly 300 chefs and bakers from Vietnam and other countries, over 100 enterprises in the local baking industry, as well as college students and instructors across Ho Chi Minh City.

Editor-in-chief of Thanh Nien Nguyen Ngoc Toan hoped the event could be a forum for Vietnamese and international researchers and culinary experts related to the historical process of Vietnamese banh mi, contributing to providing scientific arguments affirming the creativity, difference, and unique imprint of the Vietnamese banh mi compared to other types of bread in countries around the world.

How popular is banh mi?

One of the latest world recognitions for banh mi was an entry added to Merriam-Webster Dictionary in September this year.

Banh mi is “a usually spicy sandwich in Vietnamese cuisine consisting of a split baguette filled typically with meat (such as pork or chicken) and pickled vegetables (such as carrot and daikon) and garnished with cilantro and often cucumbers,” according to the definition.

Earlier, Vietnamese banh mi has also earned listings in several famous dictionaries, including the Oxford English Dictionary, which defines banh mi as “a sandwich consisting of a baguette (traditionally baked with both rice and wheat flour) filled with a variety of ingredients, typically including meat, pickled vegetables, and chili.”

The Vietnamese sandwich has been making a name for itself in foodie scenes across the world over the past few years. In May, banh mi made it to CNN‘s list of 23 of the world’s most delicious sandwiches.

Banh mi in Tokyo is also getting popular these days,” Matsuo Tomoyuki, CEO of Japan Vietnam Gastronomy Association, spoke to the event from Japan via Zoom, saying it is a result of Vietnamese restaurants becoming more known in the Japanese city.

“[Banh mi] is such a great food culture of Vietnam,” he said. “I have been very impressed from the first day of my visit to Vietnam till today.”

“For me, the point of Vietnamese banh mi culture is blending multiple cultures.

“In the piece of bread, Vietnamese people blend many different food cultures, and make delicious food.

“And this piece of bread gives us a happy time.”

The history of Vietnamese banh mi

Vietnamese banh mi originated from the baguette brought by the French in the early 19th century and has been modified to satisfy a wide variety of diners across Vietnam, Nguyen Thi Thuy Phuong, acting director of Mekong Science and Technology Center, said in her speech about the development timeline of banh mi at Tuesday’s event.

Doctor of history Vu The Long also presented a list of 20 types of banh mi with different kinds of filling across Vietnam, from the famous cold cuts to shredded pork skin, dumplings, ice cream, and more.

According to him, the value of banh mi lies in its fillings or toppings which make banh mi different from other types of bread around the world.

Günther Koerffer, world president of the International Union of Bakers and Confectioners, also agreed that the toppings are what make Vietnamese banh mi stand out.

“Of course, the idea came from French people, but now [banh mi] is a completely new product,” he told Tuoi Tre News at the event. 

Besides the creative toppings on banh mi, Günther Koerffer also celebrated Vietnamese bakers for the creativity in making the bread itself, mentioning the famous dragon fruit bread invented by famed baker Kao Sieu Luc.

“The good thing is that the Vietnamese chefs and bakers are not locked up by history, but they are very open. They can mix wildly,” he said.

Another speaker at the conference also shed a light on why banh mi is favored by many tourists.

“It’s the flavors and the variety of ingredient combinations,” said Pham Hong Long, associate professor and dean of the faculty of tourism studies at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities under the Vietnam National University-Hanoi.

Assc. Prof. Long continued to point out other reasons including its availability — as banh mi shops can be found anywhere and anytime — affordability, and fast processing.

Moreover, banh mi is an eye-catching, healthy, and convenient dish.

According to Long, banh mi should definitely be a part of Vietnam’s culinary tourism development.

To do so, it is necessary to raise social awareness about the role of cuisine in relation to tourism development, as well as invest in promoting Vietnamese cuisine through tourism with a focus on famous dishes including banh mi.

The conference also saw a performance from award-winning Singaporean chef Eric Low, who made a Laksa and chili crab banh mi onstage.

By Dong Nguyen – Toi Tre News – October 13, 2022

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