It is basic marketing dynamics that if a products is flooded into a market, the price is driven down as the retailers in the over saturated market try to compete. This can cause excesses amongst consumers, such as happened with opium from China in Hong Kong and Singapore a hundred years ago, and, more recently Elephant pants in Thailand.
This phenomenon appears to have happened again, this time in Vietnam with Banh Mi. Hungry travellers have been sighted eating up to 7 Banh Mi a day. One chain of Banh Mi sellers in Hanoi has even named itself Banh My 25 in order to encourage people to try and attain that ‘illustrious’ consumption target.
Now don’t get me wrong, to consume the wonderful Vietnamese sandwich is a pleasure that everyone at See you at Lily’s hostel indulges in often, but the hyper-addictive combination of egg, meat, pate and lightly pickled vegetables when consumed over 4 times a day leads to a physical and emotional addiction that is hard to conquer, recent studies have shown.
People are known to get Banh-gry when they don’t get their fix, and, though they try to sate their appetite with cheap bia hoi, this only leads to late night brawls over who is next in line to buy Banh Mi from street corner sandwich hustlers.
One local policeman said that it was becoming a major issue, and no matter how many times he blew his whistle the people would keep eating and arguing over what type of meat they wanted in their sandwich with the vendor. He didn’t want it to come to him needing to use force, but felt if this issue continued there would be no other solution.
One self-confessed banh My addict, called Kelvin Muscles (not his real name), said “yeah, I have one for breakfast, then again about 11am, then sometimes two for lunch before an afternoon snack of one. Then I will have maybe two to four in the course of the evening, depending on my cravings.” He stated the problem was there was so much choice and rampant availability in Hanoi that it was easy to over-indulge, and quieter places such as Cat Ba or Mai Chau are easier spots to reduce your consumption.
Local NGO’s are setting up self-help groups. One such group, ‘Ban the Banh Mi’ is currently oversubscribed. Their spokesperson said, “It is a long road to recovery, where we first remove the egg then the meat content of a sandwich, followed by replacing bread with crackers and finally the pickles are the last thing to be removed”, with surveys saying the relative healthy benefits derived from pickles meaning that it is okay to leave people just eating them. Other groups suggest transfer directly to Ca muoi (a small pickled aubergine/eggplant), generally seen as methadone option for Banh My addicts.
With the popularity of Vietnamese cuisine growing worldwide, from Hanoi Restaurant in Israel to Saigon Restaurant in Indianapolis, USA, there is fear that the epidemic could spread. Mr R Daltrey of the WHO has said that statistics are being compiled and the situation monitored. His colleague P Townshend said “I can’t explain” yet if the effects of a “substitute” will work as a suitable remedy to stop the problem.
See you at Lily’s suggest to enjoy your Banh Mi, but also come and ask us for other food suggestions, as Vietnam has a rich and diverse food culture which you should definitely explore