Vietnamese food seems to be the hottest cuisine in Auckland right now, and its street-style filled rolls especially so, even spawning such crazy inventions as banh mi pretzels. A year ago, I would have clutched at any eatery that had "banh mi" or "Vietnamese sandwich" on its menu. In fact, you may remember I wrote a post about a place in Hamilton, such was the lack of options in Auckland. One restaurant I tried even served me a sandwich made from a supermarket soft long bread roll, rather than a Vietnamese baguette! Now, with at least 8 new banh mi sellers in the past 8 months or so*, I can have standards.
* The latest openings I have noticed are:
|My Saigon||City||February 2015|
|Indochine Kitchen||City||November 2014|
|District 5||City||November 2014|
|Viet Sandwich||Markets||October 2014|
|Peasant||Mount Eden||October 2014|
|Le Vietnamese Kitchen||City||June 2014|
|Viet Flames||City||June 2014|
[Added 20 March 2015: There is already yet another banh mi seller (V-Fuels) in town!]
[Added 30 April 2015: Viet Sandwich now has a little stall up by AUT.]
[Added 5 June 2015: Sadly, Mi's little shop has closed.]
[Added 24 July 2015: The Bamboo Basket now sells Vietnamese baguettes at Atrium on Elliott.]
[Added 9 August 2015: Viet Sandwich now has another little stall at the carpark by Atrium on Elliott.]
[Added 17 September 2015: The newly opened Sen Kitchen and Bar also offers banh mi for lunch.]
[Added 17 October 2015: You can even get banh mi in Devonport these days!]
[Added 20 November 2015: ... also at Rickshaw Cafe in Ponsonby]
[Added 2 April 2016: The banh mi at ViKi Cafe in Onehunga are homemade]
[Added 14 April 2016: You can also check out the ones at The Sugarloaf and Viet Kitchen]
[Added 25 April 2017: Peasant closed at the beginning of last year, V-Fuels and Viet Sandwich gave up maybe a few months later, and who knows when My Saigon disappeared, but we now have Bun Mee Kiwi in Henderson]
What makes a great banh mi? Andrea Nguyen, author of the Banh Mi Handbook, lists 8 main components and what to look for in each. While it is easy to chuck in a bit of coriander or mint, the perfect Vietnamese baguette can be hard to find, so we have paid more attention the quality of the bread, which should be light and crispy, with a paper-thin crust that breaks off into flakes, rather than a hard one that can cut your mouth. Some claim that the dough should contain rice flour and that this is what makes it lighter than the French version, but I have also seen that theory called out as a myth, since authentic Vietnamese recipes do not contain rice flour (though professional grade flours do contain dough conditioners).
I thought Auckland would have way fewer banh mi outlets than Sydney does, but there are plenty when you start to look. Even though I have excluded non-Vietnamese eateries (L'oeuf, Sprout, Bird on a Wire and even Rad) as well as those that are what you could call modern or fusion Vietnamese (Peasant, Mekong Baby), there was still no way we could try every banh mi out there. Also, it was pretty hard to compare the sandwiches meaningfully, since we couldn't make ourselves eat the same filling as a baseline. So I will just share some pictures and comments of the banh mi that we tried, and leave it to someone else to do a more detailed analysis.
Opened January 2015, $11 for banh mi, $9 for "mini mi".
[Added 5 June 2015: Sadly closed already.]
Mi is the only permanent store in Auckland which specialises in Vietnamese baguettes. They have also distinguished themselves with snappy branding, making their tucked-away shopfront stand out through the bright use of colours (the giant yellow triangle painted on the wall was what caught my eye when I first stumbled across it), and wrapping their rolls in red and white checked paper.
|BBQ pork "mini mi" from Mi.|
As I have mentioned in a previous post, the bread from Mi is outstanding—airy and fresh, with a thin, glossy and golden crust. I thought it strange that they ask you what toppings you want in addition to the main filling—surely everyone should have all the pickled carrot/daikon, cucumber, herbs and fresh chilli slices by default, along with pâté and mayo? Flavours are good, prices reasonable and portions huge. Unlike most other places, they also serve their sandwiches at night.
2) Viet Sandwich
Opened October 2014, $8 for banh mi.
Viet Sandwich is the other banh mi specialist in Auckland, also with pretty nice branding, but unlike Mi, they only sell their sandwiches at various markets, such as the Glenfield Night Market and the Silo Night Markets. [Added 9 August 2015: No longer true - two permanent spots in town now!]
|Lemongrass chicken banh mi from Viet Sandwich.|
We ordered the lemongrass chicken banh mi, since we were getting sick of pork. Usually, they only put pate and mayo on the traditional pork banh mi, but the person making our sandwich was happy to add them in for us at our request. We thought the filling was better than the ones we had at Mi, but the bread was maybe chewier and not as fresh. Definitely worthy of another visit.
3) My Saigon
Opened February 2015, $10 for banh mi.
My Saigon is a newly-opened stall in a mini food court off Queen Street. As last week was their opening week, we were treated to discounts off some items and/or a free drink.
|Fried egg banh mi from My Saigon.|
Although banh mi was not on their printed wall menu, it was on their blackboard and on the menu they shared on Facebook. The bread roll was beautifully shaped and freshly toasted, and the sandwich was deliciously buttery, possibly due to a liberal dose of aioli.
4) District 5
Opened November 2014, $12 for banh mi.
District 5 is the latest venture by the owners of Cafe Viet, with the same pastel coloured decor, but in a shed in the central city, on Shortland Street. It has a focus on street food, offering a small menu comprising of pho, banh mi, noodle salads and rice paper rolls.
|Tofu and mushroom banh mi.|
Although their banh mi was the most expensive we have sampled in Auckland, it was less substantial than the others we tried, including the "mini mi" at Mi (I got a measuring tape out to check too). I have used the picture of the tofu version because the spicy pork one we got didn't look too appetising. There were insufficient herbs and pickled carrots, what coriander there was looked wilted, the flavour of the filling did not offset these deficiencies, and the bread was squashed down to nearly nothing when you bit it. Not the best example of banh mi in Auckland, even ignoring the price.
5) Indochine Kitchen
Opened November 2014, $12 for banh mi and side salad, $6 for half banh mi.
Indochine Kitchen is a corner restaurant in the rejuvenated Fort Street, which opened shortly after District 5. With a similar lunchtime menu, similar pricing, and a similar downtown location, it somehow feels much better value for money, probably because of the more generous amounts of coriander in their banh mi, larger baguettes, and the provision of an accompanying salad (which we were surprised to receive even though we only purchased the half banh mi for $6).
|Half banh mi, with side salad.|
From the picture, you can see that their baguette is quite different from the ones above—more of a dark brown than lightly golden, and it would have been longer in shape before being cut in half. It was fresh and tasty though, so even though this was closer to a French baguette, it made a great sandwich.
6) Phở Việt
$10 for banh mi.
Pho Viet is a stall in the IMAX food court with surprisingly good food. They are doing much better than when they were at the Grand Central food court above the Countdown on Victoria Street (where Warehouse Stationery is now). I like that apart from chopped chilli and various sauces, you can also help yourself to wedges of fresh lemon at the counter.
|Bánh Mì Thịt from Phở Việt.|
They only have one type of banh mi on the menu, with pork and pate. We were told it would take 10 minutes to prepare, and it actually took closer to 20 minutes. The bread was not that exciting, and the sandwich would have been improved with cucumber and fresh chilli slices, but you have no chance of being hungry with this filling filled roll.
7) Vietnamese Delight
$6 for banh mi.
Vietnamese Delight is a stall in the Atrium on Elliott food court, with four different types of banh mi on the menu, including one with Vietnamese ham.
|Egg banh mi from Vietnamese Delight.|
We tried the egg one, which came with pate, and were also offered chilli sauce with it. Apart from the top side which they have tried to crisp up in the oven, the baguette had that soggy floppiness you get when you microwave frozen bread. Having said that, the filling was very flavourful, and the sandwich didn't cost much.
8) Hanoi Village
$9 - $12.50 for banh mi.
Hanoi Village is a little eatery on Pitt Street, which has been around since 2011, though I suspect it has changed hands since then. The sign above the door now says "Hanoi Vietnam", although the hanging one still has "Hanoi Village". Their pork banh mi is often on special for $8, and we were hopeful as others professed to like it.
|Banh mi from Hanoi Village.|
The baguette looked terrible, lumpy and a bit grey. It had a thick, hard crust, but tasted surprisingly fresh and homemade. Not our ideal banh mi, but you could definitely still enjoy it.
$8 for banh mi.
Saigonz is a little corner shop on Beach Road, which somehow manages to feel like a takeaway, despite having plenty of seating available. They have a goal of bringing "Vietnamese Cuisine to the masses", so it's not surprising they have a dedicated vegetarian section on the menu.
|Banh mi from Saigonz.|
Unfortunately, their bread roll was disappointing, with a soft crust, and there weren't enough herbs or pickled carrots to make it feel vibrant. Banh mi is definitely not their strong point.
As I mentioned, we didn't make it to every banh mi seller in Auckland. Here are some places not previously mentioned, which sell these Vietnamese sandwiches as well.
- VR Bakers - Vietnamese restaurant and bakery in Papatoetoe which also serves dim sum. They have the widest selection of banh mi fillings I have seen (nearly 30 varieties!)
- Try It Out - Vietnamese restaurant with branches in Otahuhu and Burswood/East Tamaki, I didn't think the pictures on various blogs looked that great though.
- Sprout - little stall in Westfield Manukau, not to be confused with the cafe in Mount Albert. They call their sandwiches subs, which is a pretty good description for those familiar with American terminology.
We are going to need a break from banh mi for a while, so let us know what your experiences are!