Banh Mi Phuong – Voices of Hoi An With Madam Phuong
Ah, banh mi, the perfect blend of Vietnamese and French food, a baguette inspired sandwich that no trip to Vietnam is complete without.
Hoi An’s Banh Mi Phuong Restaurant is consistently busy. Scores of tourists line up, waiting to savour the same flavours endorsed by famous travel chef Anthony Bourdain as ‘the best banh mi in the world’. The popularity of this famous Hoi An sandwich is so great that Banh Mi Phuong recently opened another restaurant in Seoul, South Korea. Follow these links for our review of Banh Mi Phuong Restaurant and our guide to Hoi An’s best banh mi.
The owner, Truong Thi Phuong (aka Madam Phuong) is dedicated to her craft, delighting in turning out simple food that’s perfectly made. Her mission: living out her life in the town she grew up in while making banh mi for as long as she can. Hidden visited the ever-busy restaurant to hear her story.
How did your love connection with banh mi start?
We lived near the market, and I loved watching the banh mi being made. It’s always been my favourite food. When my parents let me eat banh mi as a treat, I felt very lucky. As a child, I found it simple and delicious to eat, and now as an adult, I find it easy and convenient to make, and I still love the taste.
What made you start a banh mi business?
After graduating from university, I trained to be an elementary school teacher. While teaching, I decided I wanted an additional income and thought I’d run a small banh mi stand on the side. I thought if I know how to make it I can eat it any time I want, and I wanted to make food that I couldn’t find on the street. I was inspired to make a better banh mi compared to other places.
Your banh mi is certainly considered amongst the best. How have you achieved this?
For me, cleanliness is the most important factor in food preparation. Since I started my business in 1989 not a single customer has been sick.
The other important factor is customer satisfaction. When I started, if customers didn’t finish the food, I’d ask them if something was wrong with it. I’d even eat the leftovers to compare the taste. This is how I was able to develop my menu and learn what customers like.
How did your business change after Anthony Bourdain’s visit?
I had no idea who Anthony Bourdain was. (laughs) When he first bought a banh mi from my stall in the market in 2009, I didn’t even know what the internet was. Then people started showing me what he said about my banh mi. But for me, business was the same. Things didn’t change drastically after he had a banh mi from my shop. It wasn’t until he came back to Vietnam in 2013 with President Obama that my shop became more popular. People then started asking for “the sandwich Anthony Bourdain got”.
Does the singular focus on banh mi ever get tiring?
No, not at all. I will never get tired of it. For over 30 years, I’ve enjoyed feeding people with this traditional Vietnamese sandwich, and I still find it fun and fulfilling. Looking around, seeing the place full makes me happy.
Not only that, I don’t even get tired of eating it. I have a daily ritual, and that’s to eat a banh mi every day at 5pm.
Does the younger generation have the same deep appreciation for banh mi?
Everyone loves banh mi, from small children to old people. And they love my banh mi. Even a child will eat it at another place, and say it doesn’t taste or smell like mine.
Do you ever eat at other stalls, and are you recognised?
Yes, when there’s a really popular banh mi shop or when I travel. Every place has its positives, so I like to try other kinds of banh mi to see what I can learn. I’ll ask about the different flavours or how they marinate the meat if something tastes very nice. I’m always trying to learn and improve my own practice. 50,000 VND (2 USD) is the maximum anyone should pay for banh mi. I keep my prices low (15,000 to 30,000 VND) Some people charge 60,000 VND which is too much.
I’m very nervous about being recognised and I feel a bit embarrassed when trying out banh mi in Hoi An. There was a time when I went to a banh mi shop and the worker said, “Oh, why is the famous banh mi lady buying from my shop?”, so I said I was buying it for a friend. (laughs)
How often do you introduce new recipes?
I think about it all the time, but I rarely change the menu. But I like to test new things in the kitchen so once in a while, I might introduce a new recipe to see how it goes. But I like the standard recipes I have, it’s good the way it is.
Advice for travellers trying Vietnamese food?
Foreigners ask for the most popular and healthiest banh mi. Vietnamese food has spices some people aren’t used to, like cilantro and tamarind, so ask what’s in a dish. Be careful if you have allergies or can’t eat certain food like pork. Vietnamese dishes have a lot of pork and peanuts.
Eat the local delicacies when you visit Hoi An. My Quang, Cau Lao, Mi Xao. Don’t eat foreign food when you come to Hoi An, try local, central Vietnamese food.
Banh Mi Phuong – Opening Hours, Address and Map
Address: 2b Phan Chu Trinh – Opening Hours: 6:30 am – 9:30 pm Monday – Sunday