Bánh mì Trường Tiền – a loaf of East-meets-West

Bánh mì Trường Tiền is a bit of belly.

Near Trường Tiền Bridge over Hương River, at the intersection of Lê Lợi Str. and Hùng Vương Str., there is stuffed bánh mì (French baguette) stall which is well-known among Huế foodies.

It’s only open when the darkness evades the city and the Trường Tiền Bridge is lighted. You can spot the bánh mì stall by the scene of a big woman sitting behind the baskets and surrounded by layers of her customers. An electric lamp is light enough to see nhân (stuffings), the seller, her assistants and the ones who sit in the front row.

Stuffing the bánh mì

Bánh mì will be cut at the one side and split slightly so that the nhân can be put in. There is a wide range of nhân for your choice such as ham, omelet, pâté, grilled pork, chả (boiled ground pork), nem (fermented ground pork), and bánh lọc trần, etc. Normally, the seller will spread chili paste on the inside of bánh mì, then she will stuff fresh flagrant knotweed and nhân.

You can have bánh mì stuffed with ham, omelet, grilled pork everywhere in Việt Nam, but bánh mì with bánh lọc trần is only found in Huế. For some people, it does not make sense to combine such two different kinds of bánhs (French bread and Huế specialties) together but quite many Huế people are addicted to it.

Some other people just don’t know which nhân to choose so they “invent” the so-called nhân lộn xộn (In Vietnamese, lộn xộn means chaos). It means that they want a few selections of the nhân combined in one bánh mì such as ham, pâté, and grilled pork, etc.

At the bánh mì Trường Tiền (this stall is nameless so people call it after Trường Tiền Bridge constructed by Eiffel Company in France), bánh mì is put above hot charcoal before being stuffed so its coat is always crunchy and warm. That’s why this stall is especially crowded in the lengthy rainy season of Huế. People do not only enjoy the mouth-watering bánh mì there but also the warmth from the hot charcoal pot. In rainy and cold days, I love sitting close to her hot charcoal pot, nibbling bánh mì in the dim light and looking toward the well-lighted Saigon Morin Hotel, where Charlie Chaplin and his wife Paulette Goddard spent their honeymoon in 1936, on the other side of Lê Lợi Str.

Guests always have to wait to be served.

If one late evening you happen to walk down Lê Lợi Str. to admire the remained French architecture buildings along it, be sure to stop by Trường Tiền Bridge and have a bite of bánh mì Trường Tiền. But watch out for Ratatouilles! There were a Ratatouille family showing up and looking for food around the bánh mì stall when my friends and I were there last time. Guess that the aroma from the grilled pork on the hot charcoal pot attracted their sensitive noses. Or as one of friends joked: “They come to learn the secret of making great stuffed bánh mì!”