Hoi An, Vietnam is a sleepy beach town on the central coast of Vietnam, famous for its yellow-walled Old Town, monthly lantern festival, and endless purveyors of sartorial goods. While Hoi An’s regional cuisine may lean heavily on meat-based dishes, like cao lầu (a pork and greens noodle dish) or mì quảng (a dish made of rice noodles and shrimp or other types of meat), there is no shortage of delicious plant-based eats available on seemingly every corner of this city. Despite the city’s general vegan-friendly nature, there is undoubtedly one dish that reigns supreme here- the humble banh mi. Served on a crusty, single-serving baguette split lengthwise, this beloved sandwich is typically stuffed with savory fillings like seasoned tofu and native Vietnamese vegetables like cucumber, zesty carrots, or pickled daikon radish.
But with a plethora of options, how is a hungry vegan supposed to choose the very best banh mi in town? On our recent trip to Hoi An, my husband and I did the heavy lifting for you, trying out four stalls dishing up a variety of plant-based bahn mi and ranked them on a scale from most epically droolworthy to the somewhat forgettable.
#1. Banh My Phuong
2b Phan Chu Trinh, Cẩm Châu, Hội An, Quảng Nam 560000, Vietnam; open daily from 6:30-21:30
Price: 25,000 dong or $1.08 USD
It will be impossible to miss this tiny shop due to the constant flood of visitors spilling out onto the sidewalk, eagerly awaiting their banh mi. The crowds flock here, in part, because Anthony Bourdain visited the shop in his show, No Reservations, and not only declared its banh mi the best in Vietnam, but also described it as a “symphony in a sandwich”. While Bourdain was a famed meat-lover, the vegan option here also deserves the highest of accolades (even though it’s not even listed on the menu board on display behind the counter!).
Instead, simply order up a banh mi chay- you’ll get a crunchy baguette piled high with perfectly crispy đậuphụ (tofu), with just a hint of a savoury peanut flavor, and thick chunks of creamy avocado, all smothered in a rich, chili-laden sauce. While the filling of the sandwich is phenomenal, its greatness truly lies in the bread- Phuong’s bakery is right next door to the shop, offering the employees a constant supply of crispy-on-the-outside, delightfully-soft-on-the-inside baguettes throughout the day. Symphony in a sandwich, indeed.
Protip- you’ll see the word “chay” displayed fairly frequently in Vietnam. It generally means a type of vegetarianism followed by Buddhists- in some instances, “chay” establishments are vegan, but others may include egg or dairy. To err on the safe side, I’d recommend always ordering banh mi chay without mayo, unless you otherwise know that it’s plant-based.
#2. Phi Banh Mi
Price: 25,000 dong or $1.08 USD
This homey eatery, popular with locals, tourists, and expats alike, dishes up a vegetarian banh mi sandwich, which generally comes with cheese, seared tofu, and a flavorful mixture of fresh radish, papaya, and carrots. The owner of Phi Banh Mi, a friendly gentleman who speaks great English, is well-acquainted with veganism and is happy to replace the cheese with hearty hunks of avocado. With thin slices of succulent tofu, impossibly fresh veggies, and a tangy sauce with just the right amount of kick, this was a close contender to best vegan banh mi in Hoi An.
Added bonus- the service here was impossibly quick, so this would be a great place to stop if you’re in a hurry to catch a tour, to pick up a sandwich on the go, or if just simply cannot wait to stuff that baguette in your face.
#3. Madam Khanh – The Banh Mi Queen
115 Tran Cao Van, Hoi An, Vietnam; open daily 07:00-19:00
Price: 20,000 dong or $0.85 USD
Madam Khanh and her fare is well-renowned in Hoi An, having crafted bahn mi sandwiches for over 30 years and peddled street food for well over 50. Given her storefront’s location which is slightly removed from the touristy Old Quarter, you’ll find a higher proportion of locals in this shop than most of the other locations. Unlike most stalls in Hoi An which boast a wide variety of sandwiches, Madam Khanh only sticks with four options, including a vegetarian one, which generally comes with egg, cheese, and veggies. However, when we inquired about a vegan banh mi, we were dished up a baguette filled with mouthwatering chunks of tofu, lovingly glazed with a rich, savory sauce, and fresh veggies, like juicy tomatoes and crispy carrots.
The flavor and texture of the tofu was probably the best of all the banh mi we had- however, when we stopped in the shop around 13:00, they only had enough tofu for one last banh mi of the day. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the baguette we received was somewhat sparingly filled as compared to the other locations, which literally overflowed with flavorful toppings. That being said, had Bahn Mi Queen been appropriately stocked, it would definitely be a contender for best in show.
#4. Ms. Lieu
Central Market, 73 Phan Bội Châu Sơn Phong tp. Hội An Sơn Phong, Hội An, Quảng Nam, Vietnam; open daily from 06:00-18:00
Price: 30,00 dong or $1.29
We originally stopped at this Central Market stall as we had read it dished up vegan bahn xeo, a savory rice pancake, but when we check out the menu and saw a banh mi chay, we knew we had to order one (for journalistic purposes, obviously). The resulting sandwich featured seared tofu, a hearty topping of crunchy peanuts, and a tangy red sauce. While the addition of the peanuts gave the banh mi an interesting texture, the tofu could’ve used some extra seasoning, the bread lacked the heavenly pillowiness of the other contenders, and the sandwich would’ve generally benefited from the addition of some fresh veggies. Nonetheless, if you happen to be in the Central Market and in desperate need of food, this stall will certainly do in a pinch.
While the bahn mi might be punching below its weight, the stall’s bahn xeo is worth a stop. The rice flour is fried to crispy perfection and stuffed with fresh bean sprouts and punchy scallions, creating a delicious savoury crepe-like snack. Smother the pancake in lots of hot sauce- the perfect palate cleanser between your bahn mi expedition.
We also want to mention Banh Mi Chay (Phan chau trinh and Nguyen hue; open daily from 6:30–9:30), the only banh mi stall in Hoi An that exclusively dishes up vegetarian options. It never worked out with our schedule to visit this stall, but we’ve heard this banh mi is supposed to be great. Not only does Hoi, the woman who runs the stall, depart from the standard tofu/avocado toppings (her sandwich instead features a diced mushrooms, marinated tofu, and slaw mixture), but her banh mi rings in at 12,000 dong or a whopping $0.50 USD. If anyone has tried her fare, let me know where it should be in these rankings!
And there you have it! Now that you’re appropriately carbed up, go out and enjoy beautiful Hoi An in all of its laid-back, beautiful glory- but don’t worry, there will be a delicious banh mi waiting for you upon your return.