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Saigonese embrace Khmer-style bread grilled with chili salt

Tuesday, July 26, 2016, 20:05 GMT+7

In recent months, a variety of bread grilled with chili salt has become popular, even amongst the endless list of street foods available in Ho Chi Minh City.

The hotspot of the new treat, which is called ‘banh mi nuong muoi ot’ in Vietnamese, is Le Quang Sung Street in District 6.

The street, stretching several kilometers, has recently become a ‘haven’ for bread grilled with chili salt, with tens of stalls, usually offering takeaways, selling the bread at around VND8,000 (US$0.36) per loaf.

Khmer origin

According to the vendors in the area, local resident Tam was the first to begin selling the new style of 'banh mi.'

Tam said that before opening her stall in Ho Chi Minh City, she had to make a trip to the southern province of An Giang to learn how to make the dish, which comes from the local Khmer people.

She now sells up to a thousand loaves of this kind to long queues of hungry customers every day.

Some buy dozens for their whole families.

To make the dish, sellers press normal bread flat, then spread chili salt on it before grilling it in a charcoal oven.

After toasting, the locally adapted version of the bread will be cut into pieces, put into a styrofoam box and topped with spring onions, pâté, sausage, pork floss, mayonnaise, chili sauce and cheese, among others before being served to customers.

At its Khmer origin, the process of making the dish finishes with toasting the bread with chili salt.

One diner named Dung, who patiently waited at Tam’s stall, said she had come from District 7, Ho Chi Minh City, to try the bread after she heard people praise it before.

Thu Lai from Binh Thanh District, over half an hour away, had also ridden to the dish’s ‘headquarters’ in District 6 to discover its authentic taste.

“I’ve been addicted since the first time I tried it,” she said. “Though there have been many stalls selling the dish in Binh Thanh District, District 1, and District 2, the ones on Le Quang Sung Street have the best flavor.”

“Sometimes I still ride there to get it,” she added.

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Pictures of 'banh mi nuong muoi ot' uploaded on Instagram by Vietnamese diners

The ‘trendy’ business

Many of the current ‘banh mi nuong muoi ot’ stalls previously sold other kinds of food, but thanks to its popularity, the street has become the destination for those who love the salty, spicy taste.

Nga, a grilled bread stall owner, said her family have become devoted to selling the food by turning their previous business into this.

The eight members of the family include adults, elders and children, who are all in charge of selling grilled loaves from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm.

“We sell more than 500 loaves a day, and that number can reach a thousand during peak days,” Nga shared. “The lowest days are 300-400 breads.”

With such good word of mouth, the simple bread grilled with chili salt has made a name for itself across the city and can now be found in almost every corner of every district.

Different stalls offer different kinds of toppings at different prices, and some have even invested in smokeless ovens.

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A close-up of the dish. Photo: Dong Nguyen/ Tuoi Tre News

The vendors tend to come from a variety of professions, from the ordinary Saigonese who keep up with the latest food trends, to even students who want to earn money for school.

“I have sold ‘banh mi’ for years,” a vendor named Phuoc said. “Now seeing people interested in this snack, I buy a charcoal oven to sell it next to the ordinary ‘banh mi'.”

“There are days when I sell grilled bread much more than other kinds,” she added. “Generally, if it’s still a trend, and people still love it, I will still sell it.”

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