There is a charm about Vietnam’s street food. Especially when you’re sitting on low stools along the somewhat dusty roads of HCMC (Ho Chi Minh city), biting off a piece of bánh mì you bought earlier on the street (without knowing what’s in it), and sipping on iced, condensed milk sweetened coffee.
Too bad, there’s no way we can reenact that scene in Singapore.
But at least we found that holy sandwich at Cô Hai Bánh Mì—pink puck of pâté smoothed onto the sturdy withins of the baguette and then stuffed with hams, roast pork, coriander and all the other magic.
Vietnamese food in Singapore isn’t exactly scarce. You might have had a bánh mì before. But you probably haven’t had something like the one lady boss and founder Nguyen Thi Hanh serves—fluffy yet firm inside and remarkably crusty outside. And nothing like the powdery texture that we’d encountered a few times in bánh mìs.
The taste is slightly modified to fit Singaporeans’ palette, but the results were still remarkable: the crunch of the baguette was followed by an interplay between the smear of homemade butter, savoury ham and pâté and pickled vegetables slaw. Just one bite and we knew we’d be back for more.
We were told these incredible bread are supplied to various Vietnamese restaurants in Singapore. But it’s not just the baguette itself; it’s the magical chemistry happening in your mouth when you have a bite of Nguyen Thi Hanh’s version of bánh mì.
There’s an untold solid rule in Vietnamese food—simple but fresh ingredients. The beautiful combination of these ingredients is what makes Vietnamese food charming. Take this for example: slices of ultra-fresh beef, raw bean sprouts, chopped spring onions, basil leaves and coriander in light, but rich broth. No quirky plating or extravagant colours that makes it instagram-able, but we think it’s as beautiful as it can be.
Nguyen Thi Hanh started in a coffee shop at Telok Blangah Crescent a few years ago which gained her recognition and a loyal fanbase. She moved on to Joo Chiat and opened Hanh’s Delight. It received plaudits from customers and the media, even though she was low-key in the industry. Now, she restarted the brand as Cô Hai Bánh Mì, focusing mainly on, yes you got it, bánh mì. And we think she should.
With her extended family in Vietnam all dabbling in the food industry, it’s only natural she did so too. Her longtime food memory serves as an inspiration and is chronicled in her recipes. Just like this Vietnam’s street food must-haves, Bánh Xèo. Eggy and crisp, these pancakes are loaded with morsels of tender shrimps, meat and greens. Take a little of everything and wrap them in lettuce; so good that it’s hard to stop. Slightly improvised, Nguyen Thi Hanh kept it the way the locals like it.
Cơm tấm literally mean broken rice grains, which were leftovers from the drying and milling process. Because of its imperfection, people kept it to grind it into rice flour or animal feeds. But the bright Saigonese brought it to the dining table, and kept this brilliant food culture ever since.
The Saigonese, till this very day, eats cơm tấm with side dishes, like this hearty rendition.
Pho is comforting, but when the weather gets too hot and suppresses your appetite, a dry noodle dish does just the trick. A staple in Vietnam’s list of street food, it combines fresh herbs, vermicelli, cucumber, bean sprouts, and more, topped with, in this case, fried spring rolls and barbecued chicken. Tossed with a tangy sweet and sour fish sauce, this can’t go wrong for days when the temperature soars.
Sometimes, honest food does best. Even something as straightforward as spring roll can be everlasting. Nguyen Thi Hanh kept the rolls fresh and crisp. She also introduced new vegetarian item Avocado Fresh Spring Rolls / Goi cuon bo into the menu.
The tastebuds can’t lie: Cô Hai Bánh Mì will definitively first come to mind when we are craving for Vietnam street food.
Cô Hai Bánh Mì
359 Beach Road
Tel: 6291 6435
Daily: 11am – 9pm