Among the list of best restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City over at TripAdvisor is a street food cart. But there aren’t too many restaurants on that list offering food at 75 cents, but Banh Mi 37 Nguyen Trai, whose name is the combination of the single item on the menu and the street address where it’s parked, is worth tracking down. For me, this is one of the best banh mi in Saigon.
The woman who operates it sets up the cart about 5 pm, and might be sold out by 8 pm, so you need to get there early. But you can also expect to stand around waiting and vying with the crowd of locals who come to buy these awesome baguette sandwiches by the bagful. Be sure to make your presence known and how many bahn mi you want, or the somewhat vague system of a queue may leave you hungry for quite a while.
Bahn mi isn’t really the name of a specific sandwich but rather a catch-all term for bread, and in Vietnam, the French-originated baguette is the staple. Many of them involved pork liver pâté or pork belly or ham slices, plus maybe mayo, some cucumber. It’s not typically heavy, but it is an easy meal, abundantly available, and cheap.
Banh Mi 37 Nguyen Trai offers a nice twist on this: Four little pork sliders, plopped into a crusty baguette, with slices of fresh cucumber, quick-pickled strands of carrot and turnip, a “secret” barbecue sort of sauce (I taste a hint of sweet/dark soy), sometimes a scattering of fresh cilantro (coriander), and if you like — and I do — a scoop of ground up spicy chilies. Nothing fancy, just delicious and only 16,000 dong (roughly 75 cents USD).
She has two dedicated assistants grilling up those little pork sliders (perhaps her mother, wrapped up in a cloth mask to keep some smoke out as she leans over the grill, and maybe her daughter, at another grill about 50 feet down the alley). They wave big fans to stoke the coals but they never seem to cook fast enough to keep up with the master sandwich maker who can assemble a banh mi in seconds, wrap it in a piece of paper with a rubber band, and start stacking them for an order. While she waits for the grilled pork, she uses the cup-like base of an overturned soup bowl and a layer of plastic wrap to form more of the little pork patties with a quick swipe of her hand.
We saw one bag go out with a dozen sandwiches.
The patient crowd should be enough of a testimonial, and she has a Google search printed and blown up on the side of the cart. The first time I came here I saw the rather plain looking cart and figured I was in the wrong place. (The map on TripAdvisor will actually send you to the wrong place, by the way.)
Here’s a Google map of the location.
As the name suggests, she is on (Duong) Nguyen Trai street. She parks right under the number 37 at the alley HEM 39 Nguyen Trai, just west of the traffic roundabout. And she’s pretty strict about scolding those with motorbikes for blocking the alley.
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