In Mayapis Street, a quiet corner of Makati especially on weekends, an unassuming spot is producing crunchy, chewy baguettes filled with filling ingredients you would normally see in the streets of Vietnam, or at least in sit-down restaurants here in Metro Manila.
Ahn Le, a Vietnamese who has since called the Philippines her home, opened a store selling banh mi late last year. That she has set up shop in a tucked away location is a bold move, considering Vietnamese cuisine isn’t in the same league as, say, Japanese. Yet by word-of-mouth, her sandwiches have people wanting to try them.
Along with an assistant, Ahn mans her little space with just one table and a few seats. She takes customers’ orders, handles the phone calls, prepares the sandwiches, and makes sure the bread isn’t burnt. “Pangit kasi tignan pag sunog e (It doesn’t look good burnt),” she says in her heavily accented, but solid, Tagalog.
Among the food icons of Vietnam – the classic pho and the colorful spring rolls – the bahn mi stands out as one of the country’s iconic culinary titans. Like so many Indochinese favorites, this simple creation is rooted in the colonial times. The French introduced bread in Vietnam and it quickly gained popularity as it was cheaper and much easier to prepare than rice. The typical bread used was a baguette filled with butter, ham or pâté, though in the 1950s, when French rule ended, the Vietnamese put more local influence on the sandwich, essentially adopting it as their own.
The typical banh mi now uses a mayonnaise-like spread instead of butter, and the bread is filled with different kinds of meat, pickled carrots, cucumber, cilantro and light soy dressing. The meat is usually ham or pâté, the same as what was used during the French colonial times, and this is what Bon Banhmi’s Traditional Banh Mi is stuffed with.
It’s not all about tradition here, though. The store also offers a few other variations on the sandwich, such as the Roasted Pork Banh Mi – filled with liempo-like meat – or Chicken Banh Mi.
I’m not an expert on food and I can’t say whether Bon Banhmi’s sandwiches are authentic, but simply put, they taste good. Plus a medium order is actually big enough for a meal, so presumably, a large order is good for two people. I guess you can’t find a cheaper banh mi here in the Philippines than here.
Also, every weekend, Bon Banhmi sells two kinds of spring rolls: Cha Gio (fried pork spring rolls) and Goi Cuon (fresh shrimp spring rolls). The former costs PHP 20 per piece, the latter PHP 30 per piece, and both can be ordered minimum of five pieces. The serving is surprisingly large and can actually feed two or three people.
Of course, what’s a Vietnamese meal without coffee, right? Vietnamese roast coffee is individually brewed with a rip filter and is typically served with ice. I’m not sure if the coffee here is prepared that way, but at any rate, you can choose between Black Coffee or Brown Coffee.
Either way, a cup is a perfect wake-me-upper especially when you’re here early in the morning, or in the unholy hour of the afternoon.