Before opening Banh Mi Stand, a tiny eatery on Flinders Lane, Ai Huynh was a property sales consultant and Thi Le (not to be confused with the Jeow chef of the same name) was a head chef at Seven Seeds. They were also frequent travellers, taking countless trips to Vietnam and sampling rolls around the country.
It’s a small operation with just a takeaway counter and a few bright orange milk crates that operate as stools outside. But the shop, which can be easily spotted thanks to a sign with an illustration of a Vietnamese baguette and Yves Klein blue branding, is a chance to highlight standouts from their travels, reimagined through Le’s culinary lens.
“We go back to Vietnam very often so we collected the best from different areas … and then refined it and adjusted it for Melbourne,” she says.
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Here there are six banh mi on offer. While Huynh and Le plan to eventually bake their own baguettes, right now their rolls are all made with bread from Richmond’s Phuoc Thanh Bakery (which also makes some of Melbourne’s best banh mi).
Banh Mi Stand’s cold cut roll is made with sliced ham, roast beef, pate and pork floss and is a classic southern Vietnamese dish. “This was the very first version of banh mi when Vietnam used to be colonised by the French,” says Huynh.
There’s also a vegetarian tofu roll seasoned with roasted rice and salted cabbage; a hearty spicy beef sausage banh mi that takes inspiration from northern Vietnam, in that it’s heartier and more suited to the region’s relatively cool climate; and the stand special, a combination of grilled pork, sliced ham and pork loaf. The stand also offers fried dim sims, spring rolls or fries.
Le is “very passionate about all the sauces” and the best-selling chicken roll comes loaded with fresh coriander and Le’s sweet and slightly sour secret house-made sauce.
There’s also espresso by Five Senses and a range of Vietnamese coffees including sweet black cold brew and iced milk coffee topped with salted mascarpone, which Le says is a “top trending drink in Vietnam” at the moment.