Morning Banh Mi at Ho Chi Minh City

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  • Morning Banh Mi at Ho Chi Minh City 00:00
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I arrived at Ho Chi Minh City, for the first time, on the 24th February 2019. After three weeks of exploring the northern and central parts of Vietnam, at last I have arrived in the capital city of southern Vietnam. In 1975, the North of Vietnam won the war and changed the name of Saigon to Ho Chi Minh City, in honour of the prime minister, a revolutionary leader of the communist party. The difference in climate was very significant, due to the fact that Vietnam stretched from China all the way to the equator. It is general knowledge that the northern part of a country is colder than the southern part.

After a long 17 hour train ride from Da-Nang City, I arrived in Saigon at dawn, around three in the morning. I decided to rest in the station before I ordered an online taxi to the place where I will stay at. I then arrived in the hotel around half to five in the morning, and unfortunately it had not opened yet. No one was there. I was very tired, and my eyes were getting heavy. In addition, I had not taken a shower since the day before. Trapped in an unfavourable condition, I decided to look for a 24 hour convenience store where I could buy a drink, some snacks, relax, and perhaps find a better hotel that is more accessible.

        I finally found a convenience store on the corner of a crossroad at district 1. After buying a drink and some snacks, I sat down on the pavement whilst leaning on the store window. It was in that moment where I was able to listen to the soundscape of this city at dawn. The city that is considered to be the most crowded city in Vietnam. If the hotel was opened, I would undoubtedly be getting ready to sleep, and miss this precious moment (I am not a person who is able to wake up early). The streets were still empty, there were only a few vehicles passing by. A couple of youth can be seen still talking on the side of the road. On the other hand, the birds began to chirp not too loudly. Shortly after, I encounter the sound which I would hear often as I stayed in this city and that was the sound of the Banh Mi vendor making their rounds while riding their bikes. Banh Mi is a type of sandwich unique to Vietnam, especially to Ho Chi Minh City. There are many Banh Mi vendors in this city. As I was sitting, I see quite a few Banh Mi vendors pass me by.

The history of this particular food is very interesting. It was highly influenced by the French Colonials[1]. After relaxing in front of the convenience store, I decided to search for a new place to stay where it was more crowded but still in the same district, in Bui Vien street near Đường Trần Hưng Đạo street to be exact. I had walked for one and a half kilometres. Around six in the morning near the hotel, the street was starting to get lively. I could hear the sounds of vehicles, people talking and starting their day. The music from the bar across the street could still be heard, and the sound of a lady Banh Mi vendors can be heard in the corner of the street. I stopped for a moment and recorded the whole experience.

To illustrate the Banh Mi vendors in Ho Chi Minh City, this lady vendor was riding an electric bike, and on the handles hung plastics full of Banh Mi bread. At the rear was a big basket filled with Banh Mi and other ingredients. Banh Mi is usually sold with a variety of fillings, such as vegetables, mainly pork, egg, chicken, fish, and other fillings. The vendors usually wear non la, a Vietnamese hat, to protect them from the sun. Other than that, there was this medium sized speaker hanging above the front wheel of the bicycle, which creates the unique sound of Banh Mi vendors. Technology helped the vendors, because the speakers are able to produce the sound without rest until the battery dies. The unique sound of Banh Mi vendor was a repeated compact sentence. At the moment, I did not understand what the sentence meant. It was only when I was writing this report when I found out, through references on the internet, what that sentence was. The sentence was:

Bánh Mì Nóng, Bánh Mì Nóng Giòn Đây, Bánh Mì Nóng….

 

Which translates to “breads, hot and crunchy breads”. When I knew what the sentence was, I felt more sentimental with the vendors.

[1] The word bánh mì, meaning “bread”, was attested in Vietnamese as early as the 1830s, in Jean-Louis Taberd‘s dictionary Dictionarium Latino-Annamiticum.[10] French colonists introduced Vietnam to the baguette, along with other baked goods such as pâté chaud, in the 1860s, when Vietnam was part of French Indochina.[11][7] Northern Vietnamese initially called the baguette bánh tây, literally “Western bánh“, while southern Vietnamese called it bánh mì, “wheat bánh“.

 

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