The perfect fusion of Vietnamese and French ingredients, bánh mi was once described as “a sandwich one could marry”. If you’re already a devotee, you understand. If you’ve never tried one, welcome to the love affair of a lifetime.
While the same theory may not apply in every realm, gastronomically, when two cultures meet, great things happen. Bánh mi (pronounced bun-mee), the marriage of French bread and Vietnamese ingredients in an unforgettably flavoured baguette, is one such thing. First introduced to Australian shores with the wave of Vietnamese migrants who arrived in the late 1970s and brought their traditional bakeries to suburbia to cure homesick tastebuds, bánh mi soon captured the attention of the wider community with its delicate balance of sweet, salty, sour and spicy flavours. Decades on, and Melbourne’s love affair with Vietnamese hawker-style food persists with the strength of any of history’s great romances. Behold, Broadsheet’s ode to the best of the French Vietnamese baguettes that started it all.
N Tran Bakery
This Chapel Street institution has extended the traditional Vietnamese bánh mi ingredients to include a selection that is perhaps more palatable for Western tastes—beetroot, cheddar cheese, sundried tomatoes, roasted mushrooms and a softer, rye roll option for those who value the roof of their mouth highly, all get a show in. Whilst purists might advocate against such blasphemy, since the French Vietnamese baguette is in itself a superior adaptation of a traditional Parisian sandwich, why not? It’s also arguably, one of Melbourne’s best hangover cures. A second outpost recently opened nearby on Toorak Road, saving South Yarra’s devotees the otherwise well worthwhile trip down Chapel.
263 Chapel Street, Prahran
(03) 9525 0889
210 Toorak Road, South Yarra
(03) 9041 4388
‘FOB’, an abbreviation for ‘fresh off boat’, was first coined as a term of derision to describe newly arrived immigrants who had yet to assimilate to the ways of their adopted culture, but has since been reclaimed by these migrant groups, who today proudly celebrate their heritage. And in true ‘FOB’ style, only the most authentic bánh mi ingredients make the menu at FOB Rolls, where a focus on achieving the perfect balance of pate, mayo and soy sauce condiments is key. Where carnivores and pun enthusiasts alike will delight at bun varieties such as ‘Quack Me Up’, ‘Jurassic Pork’ and ‘Chick-A-Dee’, vegetarians should approach with caution.
Roll’d Since opening their first shopfront in the CBD’s William St last year, Roll’d has emerged as the city’s potential Vietnamese answer to Pie Face, with an additional QV store recently opening and two other city siblings soon to follow. Whilst their ‘Mr Bun Mee’ baguettes have to compete for space on the menu with a range of other dishes with equally catchy names, such as ‘Roll’d Soldiers’ (rice paper rolls) ‘Uncle Pho’ (which requires no explanation) and an array of traditional salads, the buns are a clear stand out amongst other hawker style offerings. Although the vibe is decidedly more south of the Yarra than Saigon, a ‘Mr Bun Mee’ is an easy lunch, churned out in authentically breakneck speed.
Nhu Lan Bakery
No self respecting bánh mi list would be complete without a Footscray representative, given the thriving Vietnamese population that calls the suburb home. Make no mistake, Nhu Lan is the real deal—meat rolls like BBQ pork, BBQ kebab and meatballs and tomato sauce are just $4, whilst at a measly $2.80 a generous salad roll will leave you with more than enough change from a tenner to splurge on a butterfly biscuit, meringue or red bean moon cake from the sweets section for afters. If one baguette isn’t enough, To’s Bakery, Nhu Lan’s main competitor in the bid for best bánh mi in the West, is located just a few doors down, on the corner of Hopkins and Leeds Street. Who does it better? Locals remain divided, but at that price it won’t hurt to find out for yourself. Run, don’t walk!
116 Hopkins Street, Footscray
(03) 9689 7296
Like Harley Davidson, Chanel or Apple, Sunny’s is the kind of organisation that customers don’t just like—they live it. The stuff of local mythology, pioneering enthusiastic and passionate apostles once passed this Smith Street secret on to their friends, who then told their friends, until the word was well and truly out. Today lunch hour queues consistently snake well out the door. The secret to their success? Real grilled pork is used in the buns, rather than the sliced and refried variety favoured by inferior competitors. You didn’t hear it from us.
252 Smith Street, Collingwood
(03) 9419 8804