Pho Vietnam introduces authentic Banh Mi to its menu

Friday, 15 March 2024 00:10 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Pho Vietnam Founding Director Norah Phung (right) 

By Divya Thotawatte 

Training its local staff by a specialist chef flown to Colombo, Pho Vietnam recently launched the Banh Mi, a fusion sandwich that is celebrated globally for its soft texture and its versatility in featuring a variety of flavours. 

In Vietnamese cuisine, bánh mì or banh mi consists of a short and light baguette, commonly made with a combination of wheat, yeast, water and rice that contributes to its crispy exterior and soft interior. It is then filled with a variety of ingredients such as Vietnamese ham (chả lụa), sliced pork, pickled daikon and carrots, cucumbers, cilantro, etc. combined with elements from French cuisine such as pâté, and mayonnaise. The result is a blend of savoury, sweet, sour and spicy flavours. 

Founded in Colombo in 2014, Pho Vietnam is the first Vietnamese restaurant in Sri Lanka. Providing a satisfying and authentic Vietnamese dining experience is the primary goal of the restaurant, said Pho Vietnam Founding Director Norah Phung. 

Speaking about the launch and her vision for the restaurant, Phung said, “I wanted to introduce a new street food style of dining and decorate the place just like what is going on in Vietnam. Then, the local people can experience the street food in Vietnam here. Banh mi, the Vietnamese baguette, is a part of the street food in Vietnam. For us, it is just a meal, you can have it for breakfast, lunch, dinner or in between work. A key challenge is to get the baguette exactly right. The special baguette is made with wheat flour, yeast and water. The secret is in the technique.”

The updated menu includes a beef stew with banh mi, grilled pork banh mi and chicken banh mi. While preserving the authenticity of the Vietnamese banh mi, the restaurant will cater to its local customers by combining it with Sri Lankan flavours or making certain aspects of the banh mi, such as its spice levels, customisable, Phung said. 

Two staff members at Pho Vietnam, Vaikunthhan Vaigesh and Haqeem Jaliel, were trained by Vietnamese Chef Nguyen Hoang Phu to master the art of making banh mi. Chef Phu said that while the language was a barrier in training them, the training had been a success due to the fast learning abilities of Vaigesh and Jaliel. 

Now 47 years old, Chef Phu had been making banh mi from the age of 17 when he went to Ho Chi Minh City, the main metropolis in the South of Vietnam, to learn the art. He now runs his own bakery, Bep Nha Dieu An. He has also helped set up a bakery named “Pho and banh mi” in Nagoya, Japa “Banh mi” in Osaka, Japan, as well as “Banh mi Thuy” in Taiwan. Moreover, he has won awards for his work at culinary festivals in Vietnam.

The baguette was introduced to Vietnam by the colonial French in the mid-19th century, during the Nguyễn dynasty. Banh mi, which originated from this influence, became a staple food in Vietnamese cuisine, gaining popularity and widespread consumption by the early 20th century. The Lonely Planet travel guide which ranked Banh Mi among the top street foods in the world described the dish as a “piece of history wrapped in a baguette.” The online portal TasteAtlas has ranked Banh Mi as the best sandwich in the world in 2024. ­

- Pix by Shehan Gunasekara