A hybrid creation that is typical of Vietnamese street food, the bánh mì is a delight for the taste buds. Perfectly suited to the lockdown, this treat can be eaten on the go.
The bánh mì is much more than a delicious snack. This hybrid sandwich is a philosophy lesson all by itself. Specifically, it illustrates the teachings of Édouard Glissant (1928-2011), a thinker born in Martinique who came up with “creolisation”, a fundamental concept for understanding the world. “Creolisation” occurs when different cultures come into contact and create something new out of their different characteristics.
Combining the French-style baguette with vegetables, sauces and meat (beef, chicken, or pork) or tofu, prepared Vietnamese-style, this snack that is typical of street food in Ho Chi Minh City is an example of creolisation between East and West. That development took place over a long time period. French bread was introduced in the second half of the nineteenth century, but it was not until around 1950 that this people with great culinary skill put their original twist on it. More than 70 years later, that perfect fusion has stood the test of time.
BACK TO SCHOOL
So, where can you find a decent bánh mì in Brussels? Look no further than Bánh Mì Express, a place that has existed for a few years but which we have only now discovered thanks to the take-away food craze. There were three outlets before Covid, but you must now make do with two: one in the European quarter, the other one a stone's throw from Cinéma Nova.
It was in the latter that we enjoyed an incredible pulled pork version (€7). Generously proportioned, the stuffed bread was prepared by a contagiously cheerful young man, using the traditional soft factory-made baguette for the perfect result. In the centre, the pulled pork was taken to the next level by a beautiful sauce (we suspect soy sauce and Nuoc Mam but we cannot be sure), and some grated carrots, cucumber, and coriander added a touch of freshness. There were also some fried onions, peanuts, and a dash of lime, making each mouthful an explosion of flavours.
When doing some research in order to appreciate the high quality of this dish, we learned that it was Tam, a chef from a Vietnamese family that moved to Belgium, who came up with the idea. He had childhood memories of schooldays that were made extra special when his mother would surprise him by making bánh mì for breakfast. It was that feeling that he wanted to pass on to as many people as possible.
BÁNH MÌ EXPRESS
rue d’Arenbergstraat 36, Brussel/Bruxelles, www.banhmiexpress.be
ma/lu/Mo > vr/ve/Fr 11.30 > 14.00 & 18 > 21.00