Australians love banh mi. Go to Hong Ha in Sydney or N. Lee in Melbourne at lunchtime, and you'll see a queue of hungry punters.
This Vietnamese street food favourite is often floated as the best sandwich in the world, and it's easy to understand why. Crunchy baguette, rich pate and mayo, pickled veggies, and tasty cold cuts… what's not to love?
But if you're leaving your local bakery with a banh mi only, you're missing out. Here are a few more Vietnamese bakery staples to try:
Banh pate so
Shop Bao Ngoc chef-owner Cindy Tran tells SBS Food, "Every Saturday, with my mom, we used to go to Little Saigon market to buy groceries. We'd go to the bakery and buy baked goods or banh mi to take home with us."
"Every Saturday, with my mom, we used to go to Little Saigon market to buy groceries."
Among her favourites is banh pate so (also called pate chaud), which is a product of French colonialism in Vietnam. 'Banh' roughly translates to cake, bread or pastry in Vietnamese. Banh pate so is a pie made with buttery and flaky puff pastry. Inside, you'll find pork (sometimes it can be chicken or beef), pate, onions and potentially other vegetables like radish and mushrooms.
Popular in the south of Vietnam, banh cong is a deep-fried savoury cake. Made with rice flour, it's filled with mung beans and pork, and topped with shrimp. 'Cong' is the name of the ladle used to shape and deep-fry the banh cong.
Whenever I get it, it's with steamed rice cakes and fish sauce," says Tran.
"Its a good snack when the weather is hot. If your family and friends come around, you can display them on a plate with lettuce and herbs."
In Footscray, To's Bakery sells lunch packs with cut-up banh cong, steamed rice sheets, herbs, fish sauce and cold cuts. Co-owner To Thai Phuong says you can also rip the banh cong apart and wrap it in lettuce: "It's a good snack when the weather is hot. If your family and friends come around, you can display them on a plate with lettuce and herbs, and you don’t have to do much work, it's easy."
Banh la can be savoury or sweet. Wrapped in a banana leaf, you'll find glutinous rice flour, as well as pork, mushroom or coconut.
"My favourite is banh gio," says Tran. "The banana leaf is wrapped around glutinous rice flour and the filling is minced pork, mushroom and a quail egg. It's steamed for 12 hours, and it's quite messy when you eat it."
At To's, Phuong makes banh it la gai, a speciality of Central Vietnam, which is filled with mung beans or coconut. "It's a very traditional Vietnamese cake, we often have then on New Year and if a member of the family passes away," she explains.
Similar to the Chinese jian dui, banh cams are deep-fried glutinous rice flour balls covered in sesame seeds with a mung bean or red bean paste centre.
Along with banh cam, banh bo hap is a dessert you'll find in Vietnamese bakeries around the country. The white, pink and green round cakes are made from rice flour, coconut milk and sugar. "We ferment it and steam it with coconut milk," explains Phuong. "We have them with coconut milk poured on top or you can also dip them in coconut milk and peanuts and sesame seeds for more flavour."
There are a few more types of banh bo, like banh bo nuong, a coconut cake baked in a pan, which gives it a caramelised exterior.
Try different bakeries
There are plenty more dishes at Vietnamese bakeries, from banh goi (deep-fried pork dumplings) to banh thieu (hollow doughnuts) and banh trung thu (mooncake). While there are a few staples, most bakeries will have a different selection and different recipes for the same dishes.
Your best bet is to go to an area with a large Vietnamese population like Springvale or Footscray. "Because Vietnamese bakeries in Footscray cater for Vietnamese workers, there is a lot more stuff than Vietnamese bakeries in Brunswick or Fitzroy," says Tran.
The period leading to Lunar New Year (on 25 January 2020) is a great time to go to a bakery as they'll sell special baked goods and desserts.
And don't hesitate to ask questions or order something new. "I can explain if the customer wants to know something. I love food, I enjoy food and we can all learn more," says Phuong.