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

“The only reason to move to Sydney would be to kick Bill Granger in his white-panted balls”

Which was how my friend J summarized my decision to move back to Melbourne. I personally have nothing against Bill Granger and he has nothing at all to do with my decision to not move anywhere near him. The other reason to move to Sydney seems that in my absence, the rental property market in has gone to hell. The delicious dividend of the hellacious market is the following bánh mì thịt heo nướng, stumbled upon while I was between real estate agents in Footscray.

Bánh mì thịt heo nướng

It is the real deal and unlike the properties that I saw, worth waiting in a queue to get. If I could live inside a sandwich, it would be this one. Flame-grilled chunks of marinated pork meat sit atop pickled, shredded carrot and daikon (instead of green papaya); coriander leaf and stalks; spring onions and fresh chili. The bun is as fresh as you’d find anywhere on the streets of Saigon, the meat even fresher.

Thịt nướng specialists, Truc Giang Restaurant, Footscray

The restaurant’s name, Truc Giang, betrays its Southern Vietnamese origins.

Price: $3

Location: Truc Giang Restaurant, 36a Leed St, Footscray, VIC
Phone: (03) 9689 9509

Banh Mi Doner Kebab

I’ve had many a conversation with family and friends whether it is possible to combine the two of the world’s perfect foods, laksa and souvlaki, into a single ideal entity – souvlaksa – but still have not worked out the mechanics of keeping a noodle soup/garlic sauce mixture contained within a pita without resorting to either gel or foam. Herve This has not returned my rambling, incoherent emails. It was with much interest that I approached the banh mi doner kebab, imagining that somewhere in Hanoi, somebody else has been thinking along similar and no less ambitious lines.

banh mi doner kebab

Their crisp white toque was almost as impressive and bewildering as their rotating elephant’s foot of miscellaneous kebab meat. I’m still unsure what Germany’s greatest man of letters has to do with it at all but it seems to serve as an appropriately Faustian warning towards those who choose to sell their soul to street side meat barbecue.


The end product was just an average kebab, pork being the rotating meat in question. None of the banh mi’s freshness or crunch but with the addition of recently pickled red cabbage and mayonnaise.

Location: Banh Mi Doner Kebab joints are coincidentally located next to where foreigners in Hanoi do vast amounts of drinking: at the “Bia Hoi Corner” (Corner of Ta Hien and Luong Ngoc Quyen) in the Old Quarter.

The pleasure of pork skin: Banh Mi Bi

banh mi bi

Vietnam is one of the few places on earth that you can eat a sandwich whose prime ingredient is roasted pork skin and feel virtuous for doing so. Banh mi bi must rate as one of the world’s perfect sandwiches: crispy pork skin with a luscious hint of creamy fat, perfectly balanced with a tart pickle, streetside mayonnaise, shredded spring onions and red hot chilli; all contained within an hours-old mini-baguette. It’s a world ahead of your average pâté-packed banh mi, if only because the meat tastes like it came from a very happy swine. To double the meat pleasure, Tiem Banh Gia Phat on Phan Dinh Phung street in Da Lat topped it off with pork floss, a meat condiment that is in my estimate, second only to bacon.

banh mi vendor, dalat

The only reason that I picked Tiem Banh Gia Phat was for their surgically clean banh cart. It looked like somewhere that with a tray of scalpels could double as a roadside operating theatre. The bakery out the back also seemed to do a vigorous trade in Vietnamese simulations of French patisserie.

Price: 8000VND (US$0.50)