The best banh mi in hoi an: banh mi phuong vs madam khanh the banh mi queen

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As a top priority during my stay in Hoi An, I did extensive research taste testing the best Vietnamese sandwiches the city has to offer. In a series of gruelling challenges, I compared Banh Mi Phuong, Madam Khanh the Banh Mi Queen, plus a wild card roadside banh mi stall that is reportedly a favourite with the locals. Read on for an overly dramatic deep dive into the best banh mi in Hoi An. 

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I tasted my first banh mi at Broadway Market, London. Tender, caramelised pork and slices of creamy pate, sandwiched in a crusty baguette with the crunch of salad, a spicy sauce and a sweet-salty mix of Vietnamese flavours I’d never experienced before. I remember where I was standing, who I was with, the way the light hit the awning of the food stall as I took my first bite. It was spring. I could smell spice and coriander. It was an awakening.

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Of course, not all banh mis are created equal. “Banh mi” simply means “bread” in Vietnamese, which leaves a lot of room for interpretation. I had one on a food tour in Ho Chi Minh City that was distinctly average (while all the rest of the food on the same tour was absolutely amazing). It was fine, but it was just a sandwich — a baguette with some cold cuts and limp bits of cucumber stuck in it. Even in Vietnam, it seems, ordering a banh mi doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to get the specific mix of flavours, textures and crustiness that create, in my opinion, the perfect sandwich experience.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I was in Hoi An, known for its street food and home to two rival Banh Mi shops that are touted as the best in the world. Banh Mi Phuong and Madam Khanh the Banh Mi Queen both have the stamp of approval from food critics and travel journalists, and have become “must visit” tourist attractions in Hoi An.

During my research into the best banh mi in Hoi An I also read a few Hoi An food tour websites just for fun (What? You don’t do that?) and noticed that a couple of them also reference a third banh mi establishment, called Banh Mi Lanh, with hints that this is one is actually most popular with locals. Instantly intriguing, no?

So which to visit? The answer, obviously, was all of them. But in case you don’t have time to do the same, or are trying to decide which to visit first, here’s my opinion on the best banh mi in Hoi An, after tasting all three.

Madam Khanh the Banh Mi Queen

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" data-image-caption="Madam Khanh the Banh Mi Queen

" data-medium-file="https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_4931-300x243.jpg" data-large-file="https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_4931.jpg" loading="lazy" class="size-full wp-image-563" src="https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_4931.jpg" alt="Madam Khanh the Banh Mi Queen, Hoi An, Vietnam" width="1000" height="810" srcset="https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_4931.jpg 1000w, https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_4931-300x243.jpg 300w, https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_4931-768x622.jpg 768w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" />Madam Khanh the Banh Mi Queen

For some reason, I didn’t expect the actual Banh Mi Queen to be standing at the front of her shop, shovelling meat into a baguette. And yet, there she was at the helm, making sandwiches with grim intensity — you could tell from across the street that banh mi is a serious business to Madam Khanh. I was so shocked to see her standing there, calmly creating sandwich art and looking as stern as she does in the pictures, that I did that thing you do when you see a celebrity and act nonchalant / pretend you don’t know who they are, which is incredibly rude if the celebrity is a sandwich entrepreneur and you’re pushing past them to enter their restaurant. I mention this only so that you can prepare yourself and avoid doing the same if you are as socially awkward as I am.

Once I had stopped being confused and flustered, I sat down and ordered the mixed banh mi. According to the menu, it’s filled with vegetables, pork, ham, eggs, pate, egg sauce, papaya and cucumber. Note the aplomb with which the Vietnamese have incorporated three types of pork and two types of egg into one sandwich, and you may begin to understand why banh mis are the best sandwiches in the world. There was also a vegetarian and a chicken option, but I went for the mixed because I think it’s the most traditional version.

The roll was big, meaty and crispy but light, crusty enough to withstand being soaked in sauce and pork fat without losing its crunch. There was lots of crunchy papaya, carrot and cucumber adding texture and freshness to cut through the fat and spice, and a really delicious balance of flavours. Madam Khanh’s banh mis are pretty spicy. Not unpleasantly so, I enjoyed the extra bite, but I was surprised by how spicy it was and I definitely know people who would have found it too intense to be enjoyable.

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" data-image-caption="Seriously have you ever seen anything so beautiful

" data-medium-file="https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_4911-300x200.jpg" data-large-file="https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_4911.jpg" loading="lazy" class="size-full wp-image-564" src="https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_4911.jpg" alt="Madam Khanh the Banh Mi Queen, Hoi An, Vietnam" width="1000" height="666" srcset="https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_4911.jpg 1000w, https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_4911-300x200.jpg 300w, https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_4911-768x511.jpg 768w, https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_4911-270x180.jpg 270w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" />Seriously have you ever seen anything so beautiful

This banh mi was very meaty and filling, I couldn’t actually finish mine. However, I saw a few couples ordering a third one for dessert and when I paid I was asked how many sandwiches I’d had, so it’s clear that a lot of people love these banh mis so much that they have several. The price was 20,000 dong, which is around £0.60 / $0.90. As an unexpected bonus, I also had an egg coffee at Madam Khanh’s. It comes in a bowl of boiling water, in a glass with coffee at the bottom and a golden layer of thick, lustrous egg custard-ish stuff on top. (I absolutely love egg coffee, which is basically more of a dessert than a drink, but if you’re concerned about eating partially raw egg, I’d suggest steering clear. I would probably avoid if pregnant for example.) 

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" data-image-caption="Egg coffee: how can something that sounds so gross taste so good?

" data-medium-file="https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_4923-300x221.jpg" data-large-file="https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_4923.jpg" loading="lazy" class="size-full wp-image-565" src="https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_4923.jpg" alt="Egg coffee at Madam Khanh the Banh Mi Queen, Hoi An, Vietnam" width="1000" height="737" srcset="https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_4923.jpg 1000w, https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_4923-300x221.jpg 300w, https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_4923-768x566.jpg 768w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" />Egg coffee: how can something that sounds so gross taste so good?

It wasn’t too sweet, which I enjoyed, but in addition to a large baguette sandwich it was pretty heavy and I basically couldn’t eat for the rest of the day. And so in the interest of fairness, I visited Banh Mi Phuong and Banh Mi Lanh on different days, so I’d be as hungry and excited about eating those Vietnamese sandwiches as I was when I visited Madam Khanh’s.

Banh Mi Phuong

Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain famously called the Vietnamese sandwiches at Banh Mi Phuong the best in world, and unfortunately the world listened. When I arrived there was a giant crowd gathered at the entrance and a queue stretching to the other side of the street, with motorbikes making elaborate circles to zip around them. There were so many people that instead of eating inside the packed restaurant, rows of people were snacking on their sandwiches in awkward crouches on the pavement. (By the way, in case you’re wondering if I visited at rush hour, I was indeed there at 1pm but I also passed by again at 9pm, and it was almost as crowded). 

It was hot, hectic and unpleasant inside the restaurant, with no available seats. Despite the delicious smells coming from the food stall outside I seriously considered giving up on my quest to find the perfect banh mi in Hoi An and going elsewhere. Luckily, as I was standing outside Banh Mi Phuong dithering, a fun New Zealander I’d met at a bar the previous day popped his head out from an upstairs balcony and waved. And so this tip, discovered by chance, is my gift to you: there is an upstairs seating area at Banh Mi Phuong, with a balcony, fans and TABLE SERVICE. And it appears that most people don’t know about it, because there were plenty of seats available. Just walk straight in and go up the stairs.

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" data-image-caption="Banh Mi Phuong

" data-medium-file="https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_5286-300x200.jpg" data-large-file="https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_5286.jpg" loading="lazy" class="size-full wp-image-561" src="https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_5286.jpg" alt="Banh Mi Phuong, Hoi An, Vietnam" width="1000" height="666" srcset="https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_5286.jpg 1000w, https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_5286-300x200.jpg 300w, https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_5286-768x511.jpg 768w, https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_5286-270x180.jpg 270w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" />Banh Mi Phuong

The menu at Banh Mi Phuong is wider than the Banh Mi Queen’s, which literally runs to three sandwiches. At Banh Mi Phuong there are loads more options, including a burger. Prices vary, but on average it’s a slightly more expensive 25,000 dong for a sandwich — still less than £1 and only a little over $1. There are also a lot more members of staff making sandwiches and waiting tables — it’s just a bigger operation, in a more central area of town, with lots more customers, and of course the famous Anthony Bourdain stamp of approval. I’m not saying this is better or worse than Madam Khanh’s smaller and more intimate establishment (her shop was also really busy!) but personally I preferred the simplicity of the Banh Mi Queen’s shop and menu.

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Anyway, back at Banh Mi Phuong the New Zealander and I decided to split three sandwiches so we could try more flavours. I made sure we ordered a mixed meats banh mi to compare to Madam Khan’s, but we also had a beef and omelette banh mi and a chicken sandwich.

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I focused on the mixed baguette since that’s the classic banh mi recipe that Hoi An and Banh Mi Phuong are famous for. It was meaty, salty, sweet and light, with less crunchy papaya than Madam Khanh’s. It was undeniably delicious, but in my opinion while it was a great sandwich, it didn’t stand up to the Banh Mi Queen’s. The bread at Banh Mi Phuong is flakier but the banh mi I tried had less sauce, less egg, and I’m afraid to say slightly less flavour. Banh Mi Phuong’s baguette was also less spicy (I asked for medium so if you like it spicy, go for hot) and the sauce was sweeter, but had less of the delicate Vietnamese flavour combination that makes a banh mi so incredible.

Don’t get me wrong — the sandwiches at Banh Mi Phuong are a taste sensation. But for me they didn’t quite live up to the hype and I wonder if its popularity and the volume of sandwiches they now produce has caused a dip in quality.

Banh Mi Lanh

This one was always going to be the wild card. It’s not as famous as Madam Khanh’s or Banh Mi Phuong by a long way. And unlike both of the better known banh mi shops, Banh Mi Lanh doesn’t have an indoor restaurant area — it’s literally a stall on the roadside, although they do have a couple of plastic stools on the pavement if you want to sit down. It’s also a little outside of the main old town area. It’s located on Cua Dai Street, but the easiest way to find it is probably to navigate to Nam Quang Pagoda, aka Nam Quang Tu. Banh Mi Lanh is set up just outside the gates. 

Even though I visited at the odd time of 5pm, Banh Mi Lanh was mobbed by locals and doing a roaring trade, which I took to be a good sign.

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" data-image-caption="Banh Mi Lanh

" data-medium-file="https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_5304-300x232.jpg" data-large-file="https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_5304.jpg" loading="lazy" class="size-full wp-image-600" src="https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_5304.jpg" alt="Banh Mi Lanh Hoi An Vietnam" width="1000" height="772" srcset="https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_5304.jpg 1000w, https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_5304-300x232.jpg 300w, https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_5304-768x593.jpg 768w, https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_5304-370x285.jpg 370w, https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_5304-260x200.jpg 260w, https://maritimehotel.com.vn/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/IMG_5304-87x67.jpg 87w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" />Banh Mi Lanh

The baguette from Banh Mi Lanh was the crunchiest I’d yet encountered, with spreadable homemade-looking pate, rather than sliced. The focus of this banh mi was on processed meats. The sliced pork was basically all fat, which I enjoyed. Even though I asked for medium to spicy heat levels, there was hardly any bite to this sandwich — far less so than the other two I sampled. Like Madam Khanh’s, this banh mi cost 20,000 dong.

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Overall, although this was an undeniably great sandwich, it was not as satisfying or flavourful as the others I tried. 

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The verdict: the best banh mi in Hoi An

The crown goes to Madam Khanh the Banh Mi Queen. Queen of the Vietnamese sandwich and queen of my heart.