My love of Banh Mi is strong (hence the blog title) however I have mainly been disappointed with any I have tried outside of Vietnam. There are a number of factors which impact on my impression of banh mi:
- The quality of the bread – soft or stale bread is a no go
- The ratio and quantity of the fillings – the meat / veg ratio is crucial and a sparingly filled sandwich breaks my heart
- The quality of the fillings – by this I mean the selection of overly processed meats, who doesn’t love pork floss!
- The condiments – chilli is a must for me (as well as a sprinkling of MSG)
I have been on a voyage of discovery in Hong Kong as Banh Mi appear to be “en vogue” at the moment, with a number of banh mi establishments setting up across town. I feel it is my duty to stress test the various banh mi available and share my findings.
Banh Mi Kitchen
Banh Mi Kitchen is on Lee Yuen East in Central and has been open a few months thus far. My expectations were high as customers were singing its praises on Google – it has a resounding 4.7/5. They offer a variety of banh mi from the traditional cold cuts to meatballs and chicken. The prices are incredibly reasonable starting from 48hkd and they prepare them at lightening speed. The venue is tiny with no seating but you can loiter at the back and stand at the bar to savour your lunch. Being a traditionalist, I went for the cold cut banh mi with chilli. I really wanted to like it but I was pretty disappointed. It was mainly let down by the bread, it was so soft and lacked the crispness I have come to expect from a Vietnamese banh mi. The cold cuts were fine however the condiments and vegetables were pretty average. I don’t know if they were just having a bad day or I hit a bad batch of the bread but I was pretty underwhelmed. I would potentially try again to sample one of their other fillings, such as Char Sui but it is not top of the league for me.
This restaurant is named after the Lunch Lady who is based in Saigon and was made famous by Anthony Bourdain . She serves a different dish each day and is pretty much guaranteed to sell out every time. The owner of Co Thanh went to Saigon to spend time with Lunch Lady to learn how to prepare her legendary dishes and bring them back to Hong Kong. When I first heard of this restaurant, I was beyond excited and proceeded to join the long queue to sample their food. The food was worth the wait and I loved the soups (particularly the Bun Thai) so my expectations for the banh mi were pretty high. The banh mi is quite pricey at 88HKD but you get what you pay for. The bread is crispy, the pate is homemade and there is a generous portion of meats. A strong banh mi however not my favourite.
The baby brother to Garcon Saigon and it is handily located in Wan Chai. This little restaurant ONLY serves Banh Mi Thit (processed meat sandwich) and Vietnamese style coffee. With such a limited menu, you would hope that they would deliver a top notch banh mi and thankfully they do. They cure all the meats in house, source their coffee from Vietnam and bake their own bread. They are super generous with the fillings although for 88HKD I would expect nothing less. There isn’t much space to sit down and it is near impossible to retain your dignity whilst eating this sandwich as the filling goes EVERYWHERE! It’s a close call between Co Thanh and Le Petit Saigon but I think Petit Saigon are the victors. This sandwich is a beast and I love it.