YOU'RE THE BAHN FOR MI
WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY JUHI PANDE
I’ve never bought a recipe book. Right after school, I spent three years studying Hotel Management, and 60 per cent of the classes involved food production. If I hadn’t chosen to break away from the industry after graduating, I could have been a chef in just a couple of years. That idea roguishly, makes me feel that I actually am one. And trained chefs never need recipe books.
So here’s the story about how I came to own the Vietnamese Market Cookbook.
The Saturday street market at Broadway Market is a weekend ritual for me. After peeling myself away from the warmth of my bed and wasting a couple hours doing absolutely nothing, I head to Broadway Market where the street market is in full swing from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. This is where my husband and I like to spend a couple of hours going from one food stall to another, debating on what we should eat. Sometimes this decision can be so tedious that we get a coffee to tide us over while discussing our options. And then, unfailingly, we go to the “Baguettenamese” stall right at the entrance for Bành Mi or Vietnamese baguette.
From cooking everything (except the bread) in their tiny home kitchen and bringing it to the stall at the market on their bicycles to owning two restaurants in the heart of London, they’ve come a long way.
Baguettenamese is a (personal) concatenation of “Vietnamese” and “baguette”. Bành Mi 11’s stall is right towards the entrance of the Saturday street market, and their specialty is – no prizes for guessing – baguettes! Toasted, crisp shelled baguettes slathered with pâté and filled with a choice of grilled pork, chicken or tofu, then topped with cucumber, carrots, coriander and finely chopped, vengeful red chillies. The level of spice is personal and in my case involves eating half the baguette then running around with streaming eyes, burning ears to look for an ice-cold Coca-Cola. I guess the fun is in the spice.
One Saturday afternoon, after a year and a half of eating from that particular stall, we noticed the Vietnamese Market Cookbook on the table. Ten minutes later we walked away from the stall with a sandwich each and the book in the bag. It was an impulsive £20 buy, and a few minutes later I wondered if either of us would ever use the book. What about my false ego of being a fake chef? That bridge would have to be burnt/crossed when I got there.
Anh Vu and Van Tran, who also happen to own Bành Mi 11, are the authors of the Vietnamese Market Cookbook. They were born in Vietnam and spent their childhood in Hanoi. On a visit to Broadway Market, a year after they had moved to London, they found a reflection of the market scenes from Hanoi in the commotion and hustle-bustle. It was a part of their old lives they missed, and it didn’t take long for them to get a stall at the market and start Bành Mi 11 in 2009. From cooking everything (except the bread) in their tiny home kitchen and bringing it to the stall at the market on their bicycles to owning two restaurants in the heart of London, they’ve come a long way.
The book, as I found out, is broken down into the five flavours that make up ideal food – sweet, sour, bitter, spicy, and salty. It is further categorized into An Com (everyday cooking), An Qua (festive cooking) and An Choi (special cooking). It turns out Vietnamese food is easy to cook if the recipes are written down precisely and with a little flourish. It also helps if there are two people involved in the cooking process. Nothing is tedious, and there is an atmosphere of excitement over cooking something new. Prawn cooked in tamarind sauce, courgettes and seared sirloin, pan-fried pork belly with black pepper and spring onion slide off the wok with ease and taste so good (even if I say so myself).
I’ve steered clear of trying to make a Bành Mi, though. Going to Broadway Market and standing in line for one is what most of my Saturdays look like. Some traditions are best left untouched.
Bành Mi 11 is now known as Bếp Haus London and is located at 40 Bow Lane, City, London, UK, EC4M 9DT