Bánh Mì Xiu Mai

banh mi xiu mai

Bánh mì xiu mai is the ultimate culinary mashup: a strange interpretation of Cantonese food in a French baguette via Saigon. The banh mi is your average baguette filled with a slap of pate, pickled carrot and stalks of coriander. The xiu mai part is utterly bewildering.

banh mi siew mai
Picking the xiu mai from the sauce

The Vietnamese version of the Cantonese siew mai bears only the most basic resemblance to its Chinese compadre. It is both made from ground pork and is the size of a golf ball but lacks the thin wonton skin of the Cantonese dumpling. Instead of being gently steamed, the Vietnamese version is boiled in a tomato sauce.

The further that you delve into the origins and history of the recipe, the stranger it becomes. Andrea Nguyen from Vietworldkitchen hints that it might be a Vietnamese version of an Italian meatball sub and to illustrate the point, uses a modified Cambodian recipe for them. I’ve certainly seen them around Cambodia: there was a vendor in the Russian Market in Phnom Penh who sold them from an aluminum soup bain marie, in the same thin and oily tomato sauce. Graham from Noodlepie spots them about Saigon.

As far as I can find, there is no canonical Vietnamese recipe or even one that closely accords with the others. This recipe in Vietnamese, for example, calls for devilled ham along with ketchup. Another specifies Hunt’s brand tomato sauce and breadcrumbs. This lack of consistency and extensive use of more typically “Western” ingredients suggests that the xiu mai (for banh mi purposes) is a fairly recent addition to the Vietnamese culinary pantheon, even if the Cantonese siew mai have been cooked around Vietnam for millenia. Xiu mai just happened to be the most convenient word already in common usage.

This leaves the more difficult question of whether the banh mi xiu mai originated in Vietnam, and if so, how long has it been there?

banh mi ba le, footscray

If you happen to be in Footscray, Banh Mi Ba Le does an excellent banh mi xiu mai for A$3, with the bread amply soaking up the oily sauce and squishy pork ball. It comes a close second to the nearby banh mi thit nuong.

Address: 2/28A Leeds St, Footscray VIC 3011, Australia

10 Comments Bánh Mì Xiu Mai

  1. Andrew

    Great post. I never knew what to call these meatball rolls! (Still can’t pronounce it). I usually just point to order :) They sure are good from this shop though…they also sell some good homemade chilli oil too (roasted or raw)…you will see on the counter in unlabelled jars.

    Another Vietnamese bakery worth trying in Footscray is “Nhu Lan Bakery” in Hopkins St. I have found them to be the busiest and probably the best. Although their xiu mai may not be as good.

  2. Phil Lees

    I pronounce it like “shoe my”, which is probably horribly wrong. Just because I know the food words in Vietnamese doesn’t mean I don’t mangle the spoken language.

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  4. Kimbers

    $3?! That’s a bit rich. Here in Adelaide, you can get them for the bargain price of $2.50 in the food court at 4.30, after they’ve been sitting there all day! They also have those cold prawn rolls for $2.50…after they’ve been sitting there all day….yeah I’ll pass :)

    Great blog you’ve got here!

  5. Thi Nguyen

    Oh, definitely I have heard of banh mi xiu mai! Actually I ate it when I was still in Saigon. I was about 10 or 12 then. You can say it’s similar to meatball sandwich but the taste as I can recall is nothing like it. The tomatoes sauce was not as thick and have a sweet and sour taste to it. It was delicious!

  6. Scott

    Andrew is right about Nhu Lan, who also exist in Victoria St in Richmond.

    Being clean and friendly gives this Vietnamese bakery an advantage already, but when you taste their fresh rolls you’ll be won over. I particularly love the bbq pork and salad rolls, which they will make to your liking but I recommend asking for pate and chili. I also love their little pork puff pastries.

  7. brad

    We have them in the Pho shops in Mississippi as well and they are awesome. Also love the Banh Mi Bi, which I think is just BBQ pork and pate..


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