Wow. Just wow. You know, you have to be careful with expectations when you travel. Sometimes you build things up so much in your mind and expect the food and ingredients to be so much better than what you’ve had that you set yourself up for disappointment. I am here to tell you that I fully believe that is impossible to do with this Bánh Mì in Hội An. It. Is. Amazing. But be forewarned…so amazing it may ruing all other Bánh Mì for years to come.
So, yes, let’s get this out of the way…Anthony Bourdain is a big fan of this place and that is definitely how I first heard about it. Honestly though, if you look at my Vietnam Foodie Itinerary that alone wasn’t enough for it to make my list just yet. What did make me add it to the list was the fact that while I was in Saigon I had not one but three local Vietnamese people tell me I must go here when I was in Hội An. So this is the stuff of legends not just among us annoying foodies but among locals too. My kind of place!
So after a gorgeous sunrise tour and hike through the nearby Mỹ Sơn temples and ruins we were excited and ready to try Bánh Mì Phượng out. It’s about 10am when we walk in and there are already about 6 locals there eating (a few tourists did join later but not nearly as many as I would have expected). First, the smell. It’s one of those places that you walk in and just say I want whatever I’m smelling! Knowing full well that it’s a mix of pretty much everything delicious that they make…which means it’s time to make a choice.
We go with the special deluxe…which is the fully loaded Bánh Mì. Katherine and I have grown pretty used to sharing food by this point in our trip so that we have enough room for everything we want to try, but with this one I quickly assess what is going on behind the counter combined with the intoxicating smells and assert that I am getting my own and not sharing. Katherine happily agrees.
Any Bánh Mì connoisseur knows that the bread is an incredibly important ingredient to this sandwich (all sandwiches really, but this one in particular!). This bread might be the most perfect Bánh Mì bread I’ve ever encountered. While these rolls are certainly inspired by French baguettes that the French colonists brought to Vietnam over the years, the Vietnamese have made them their own. The crust is thinner and crisper with the crumb less dense…which means a perfect bite every time with minimal chewiness and distraction from the delectable ingredients the all-important bread contains. To make matters even better, Phượng warms her rolls with slow burning embers beneath a wooden box where the bread awaits it’s delicious destiny. Genius.
Now it’s time for one of those rolls to get sliced open and turned into the Bánh Mì of your dreams. Incredible homemade sauce (one of Phượng’s secrets) layered on top of incredible homemade sauce. Mayonnaise creamier and eggier than most, fresh red chile sauce (tương ớt) and her special super-secret sauce that has hints of soy sauce, onion and maybe a bit of tomato with some sweetness. And of course, while not a sauce at all, Phượng smears a healthy serving of amazing, chunky pork liver pâté across the bread as well. Next a handful of herbs (cilantro, Vietnamese cilantro, mint and scallions), pickled daikon, pickled carrots and cucumber are piled on. Now three different types of pork are layered in…thin slices of ham, roasted pork loin and homemade pork sausage. But we’re not done yet! A juicy ground pork mixture, some fresh chili sauce and a bit more of her special sauce is spooned all over the top before adding the finishing touch…a fried egg. You all know how I feel about eggs added to pretty much anything. Glorious.
Finally, the Bánh Mì is in my hands and let me tell you what a hard time I had restraining myself long enough to take even one of these photos to share! Get in my belly! And, yes, we had beers at 10 am because this felt like a celebration of sorts…the kind of meal where you’re jittery in anticipation until you take that first bite. Oh, that first bite. I’ll admit it brought on a “I have to stop and put this down, hold on to the table, take a breath and just focus for a minute so I never forget this” foodgasm. It’s that good. Run, don’t walk to Bánh Mì Phượng at 2B Pham Châu Tring St., Hội An. And overnight me one when you get there…I’ll pay for the shipping, I don’t care what it costs!