Bánh mì: A Happily Ever After

By Han Ung

As you may know, one of the world’s tastiest sandwich is bánh mì, a product of Vietnam’s colonial past. The sandwich began with the establishment of French Indochina in 1887 - when the occupying French simply slathered butter and pate inside a baguette. Among the well-known bakers in Saigon at that time was Ms Tịnh, who owned a bakery mainly supplying to the French.

When the Vietnamese sent the French packing in 1954, many northerners migrated to southern Vietnam, including Mr Ngọc. He immediately started his shop which stocked a wide variety of cold cuts, pate, sausages and hams, next to Tịnh’s.

Customers normally bought baguette and hams separately and served on dishes until the 1986 economic reforms did not leave them much time for fancy breakfast at the restaurants anymore. Concurrently (and lucky us), Tịnh and Ngọc fell in love with each other. Hence, their joint business was built up - where a crunchy French baguette was served with cold cuts, hams, pate and an ever-changing array of fresh vegetables all in one.

Whether you already knew this story or not, there is a significant chance that you will remember the punchline: that the baker and butchery owners fell head over heels in love. You may not remember their names, when their businesses started or which political events were happening but it is highly probable that you will remember the overall storyline for a long time to come, and probably every time you enjoy bánh mì in the future.

Our brains are hardwired to prefer a soul in a series of charts, figures and facts, in order to keep ourselves engaged and remember. As much as you believe data is numbers with stories, I dare say that the most coherent, memorable and effective medium is storytelling.