Taco Bell's Parent Company Is Opening a Banh Mi Shop; Here's 5 Tips So They Don't Screw Up

OK Taco Bell, aim for this
OK Taco Bell, aim for this
Photo by Stuart Spivack

So, last Thursday, Escape Hatch Dallas reported that Yum! Brands, the parent company behind Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut, is going to be opening up a bánh mì shop in Texas. Excuse my lack of enthusiasm.

For one, there are a ton of Vietnamese people in the Dallas-Fort Worth area (my family being among them), if anyone should be starting a bánh mì shop, it shouldn't be Yum! For two, I'm sorry, but I don't trust some mi chang (especially corporate mi chang) to translate the art that is the Vietnamese sandwich to Mass America -- I'd rather Lee's Sandwiches do it (I mean, they're already showing Costco shoppers the beauty that is Vietnamese coffee). For three, well, the first two reasons were good enough.

But my complete hesitation aside, I'm going to give Yum! some free consulting. Here are five things you need to do to not completely ruin bánh mì. For the love of god, please don't ruin bánh mì.

5. Use Legit Vietnamese Baguettes

See that crumb? Perfect
See that crumb? Perfect
Photo by Kenny Louie

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Yes, bânh mì is basically a Vietnamese take on a French sandwich. No, that doesn't mean you can just use French baguette as a base. As I've been saying for years (see Best Baguette 2012), Vietnamese baguette is almost wholly different from its French grand father.

The crust is thinner and lights, with more of a crispiness than a crustyness. Yes, that means it might cut the roof of your mouth if you're not prepared, but it also means that you can chew through it with ease.

The crumb? Magnificent. Instead of the pock-marked and overly dense crump of a European baguette, the crumb of Vietnamese baguettes are light, fluffy, pillowy, and much more consistent. Not only does make for the better sandwich base, it also makes sense as the Vietnamese baguette is a bread made for a people who are in love with eating rice.

Using any other kind of bread is criminal.

4. Don't Be Afraid of the Pickles

Dat sour stuff
Dat sour stuff
Photo by Jeffrey W

Do chua -- the pickled carrots and daikon that roughly translate (I think) to "sour stuff" -- may be one of the most unfamiliar things in a bánh mì for Western eaters. Most people can kind of identify jambon and pâté, but I'm willing to bet most people in Texas wouldn't even be able to tell you that daikon is a vegetable (it is a vegetable, right?). Why not just leave it out?

No. The sour punch supplied by the the do chua (and to a lesser extent, the beautiful non-soapiness provided by cilantro) is paramont in cutting through the richness of most of the bánh mì proteins. Without them, you'd be basically eating high-fat meats between some bread, enough to tire your mouth and palate in about two bites. And that's not to mention the texture difference you get. A little bit of crunch is the perfect pacer between the pillow-y baguette and the, uh, meaty meats.

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