It might seem a bit dull to describe a humble sandwich as hands down one of the best meals you’ve ever eaten in your life. Sandwiches are, after all, the culinary equivalent of a rather boring, but objectively “good” friend: always there to comfort you when you need them, but probably the last person you’d call for a night to remember.
But Bánh Mì Phuong’s grilled pork sandwich, or bánh mì thit nuong, is different. Why? Because it’s no ordinary sandwich; it’s a triumph. A glorious panoply of caramelized pork, pickled vegetables and cilantro all generously stuffed inside a crusty baguette that’s been primed with lashings of pork liver paté, Vietnamese mayonnaise, and fiery chili sauce, this life-affirmingly delicious snack can be yours for the grand total of around $1. Which is good, because you’ll want to eat at least three.
Situated in the heart of the central Vietnamese city of Hoi An—a few steps from the main sites of the UNESCO-protected Ancient Town—Bánh Mì Phuong has been serving up perfectly formed sandwiches since 1989, when founder Madame Phuong started selling them from a stall to supplement her income as a teacher.
Since then, it’s expanded from a street-food pitstop to include a small restaurant space, but it’s still at the sandwich counter out front where Phuong does the lion’s share of her roaring trade today. Assisted by a bevy of super-fast sandwich makers, she reportedly sells around 2,000 bánh mì per day, which—along with a shout-out from Anthony Bourdain on his show “No Reservations” (“a symphony in a sandwich!”)—goes some way in explaining why the queue here perpetually snakes out onto and along the street. (Not to mention a sign hanging on a tree outside a neighboring restaurant that reads, rather bitterly and all in caps: “DO NOT GET LINE FRONT MY RESTAURANT”.)
One of the world’s best, and least pretentious examples of fusion cuisine, the modern bánh mì emerged in the mid-20th century, when the Vietnamese started to put their own spin on the baguettes French colonists had first brought over in the 1800s. As well as stuffing them with an array of local ingredients, they made them smaller and lighter, too.
And that’s what sets Madame Phuong’s apart from the rest. While you can pick up a perfectly adequate bánh mì from Hoi An favorites Madame Khánh on Tran Cao Vân and Bánh Mì Lan on Cua Dai, none hold a candle to Phuong’s baguettes. Baked fresh daily, their pleasingly crusty exterior cracks open to reveal pillows of soft, airily light dough.
The French might have invented the baguette, and the British the sandwich, but it’s the Vietnamese—Madame Phuong in particular—who make this snack sing.