Perfect that recipe: Why we bring back the traditional bánh mì instead of twisting it.

It is easy to find bánh mì in America. Well, at least if the name is what you are looking for. I have found bánh mì on the menus of food trucks, hip sandwich shops, modern cafes, Asian restaurants, taco places, and more. Everybody claims their sandwich is a bánh mì because they use a baguette, slap on some meat or shredded chicken, topped with carrot pickles or cabbage slaws, and mayonnaise. Boom! There you have it! Sandwiches that I, a Vietnamese born and raised, would never call a bánh mì. I should not judge though, because there is no limit to what you can put into a bánh mì (which literally means bread or sandwich).

Now, I would not deny that there are some places that offer pretty good authentic bánh mì, especially in California, Texas, or New York. But “pretty good” is not comparable to the amazing pocket-of-flavors that I experienced in Vietnam. “Pretty good" bánh mì in America stops at catching the right flavors and the right ideas, but never the unforgettable experiences. The main reasons are:

1/ Creating a good bánh mì is not that easy, even for the vendors in Vietnam.

2/ Most places Americanize their bánh mì.

So here I am, a hopeless bánh mì lover, chasing the science behind the perfect sandwich I love so dearly. There is something about the meat, the mayonnaise, the liver pâte, and the small baguette in Vietnam that make a bánh mì so special. It is the taste you can never find in American hams, liverwurst, or grocery store bread. The traditional bánh mì in Vietnam has such a complete flavor profile that I would not want to change a thing.

When I had a chance to start my business, I made a promise to myself: I would not serve a bánh mì that I wouldn't want to eat. Even if you do not know me, it is not hard to figure out that I am obsessed with bánh mì and have a very high standard for my sandwiches. Business is personal after all. How good can a business be if the founder is not the most difficult customer?

How do I find recipes for the bánh mì of my dreams? I searched through my memories. A twelve-year-old me sitting on the family's wooden couch, watching Vietnamese drama with my mother, and waiting for a late night snack. Then a light flashed outside of our window and my father drove his motorbike through the wide-open door. He handed me a warm bánh mì that he bought from my favorite place, while my mother cut her bánh mì in half to share with my father. I can still taste that bánh mì. It was warm, crisp, and smelled wonderful. The creamy pâté and rich egg mayonnaise were smooth and inviting underneath the crust, then the thick layers of melty pork hams followed. The sweet and sour pickles added a nice crunch, the cucumber was fresh and delightful, and the chili slices cleaned my palate with a good kick of spices. It has been years since I moved away from home, and the flavors still dance in my mind, reminding me of the sweet summer nights in Saigon.

I have fallen in love with many different sandwiches that I have come across. The creamy Croque Monsieur, the wonderful Reuben with corned beef and sauerkraut, the refreshing Tortas, the tender Greek Gyro, or Turkish Kabob. Each sandwich is a symbol of the culture they came from, packed with the essences of their motherland. Bánh mì is no different; it is one of Vietnam’s proudest creations since the adaption of French cuisine. Instead of turning bánh mì into something it is not, I’d like to reserve all the elements that make bánh mì so memorable. Bringing back the traditional bánh mì and redefining the way bánh mì is represented is not only my business mission, but also a way for me to live in the flavors of my childhood all over again.