Look for a “Banh mi Mr. Ly” sign hanging on a patio umbrella at 189 Hai Ba Trung, District 3 and you will find the business venue, right on the sidewalk.
It has a flat bamboo basket holding different kinds of sausages, layered with banana leaves and placed on another basket that keeps the banh mi warm, both on top of a plastic stool. Rustic or minimalistic, you call it.
Customers wait to buy Mr. Ly’s banh mi on Hai Ba Trung Street, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran
Ly is the name of the stall’s founder, who moved from northern Vietnam to Saigon in 1950 and began eking out a living selling banh mi.
Word-of-mouth stories passed down through generations say Mr. Ly is the first person to sell banh mi in Saigon. After two generations, the cart is now managed by Nguyen Hoang Quoc Thien and his family, who are Ly’s grandchildren.
“I’m the third generation of the business. I’ve been running it for more than 20 years,” Thien said.
Every morning at 6:00 a.m., rows of commuters line up in front of the stall, which has become famous for offering a simpler banh mi than most of the southern versions which are richer in tastes, with butter, paté and pickles.
Mr. Ly’s banh mi stall offers a wide selection of homemade Vietnamese sausages, including beef and pork, cooked mainly with family recipes.
Homemade ingredients are placed in a flat basket at Mr. Ly’s banh mi stall on Hai Ba Trung Street, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran
To preserve the flavor and freshness of the sausage, Thien only cut the roll into pieces after receiving an order.
Then sliced cucumber, onion, a small amount of chili pepper, salt and soy sauce are added, a process that takes only 30 seconds per serving.
According to Thien, his grandfather, Ly, created his signature banh mi by using Vietnamese northern-style sausage as the filling.
All those years ago, Ly began hawking his signature banh mi on a bicycle with a large basket to carry the ingredients. In the 1980s, old age forced Ly to permanently park his cart on Hai Ba Trung Street.
His regular customers were blue-collar workers and students who bought the banh mi to go.
“In the 2000s, Ly quit running the cart and passed it on to his family. After three generations, we still maintain the same stall in the same location, keeping both the original flavor of my family’s recipe and the warmth we extend to our customers,” Thien said.
A close-up view of a banh mi with full toppings at Mr. Ly’s stall on Hai Ba Trung Street, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran
Nguyen Van Mot, a 72-year-old patron, said he has been enjoying Mr. Ly’s banh mi since he was a university student.
“Over time, the flavor has remained the same as it was in the past. The banh mi is still loaded to the full with sausage and leaves me feeling extremely satisfied after eating it.
“I enjoy the banh mi from this cart because it does not contain paté or mayonnaise, which can make one fed up easily. I purchase this banh mi at least once a week,” Mot said.
Monday through Saturday, Mr. Ly’s banh mi cart opens at 6:00 a.m. and routinely sells out by 9:30 a.m.
Each day, the cart sells an average of 450 banh mi with 40 kilograms of sausage.
A banh mi at Mr. Ly’s stall costs VND25,000-30,000 ($1-1.21).