If the U.S. is truly a melting pot, sandwiches like the banh mi could be considered quintessential American fare. It also makes sense that another menu item of Vietnamese origin – pho (soup featuring rice noodles, which draws inspiration from French, Chinese, and American cuisine) – is gaining popularity stateside.
Vietnamese menu items, in general, are gaining traction across America’s culinary landscape.
“Considering Vietnamese cuisine is a vessel that can hold many different influences, it makes the cuisine easy to identify with,” Tu David Phu, a former Top Chef contestant, told The Food Institute.
“There are many cultural intersections – French, East Asian, African, Portuguese, etcetera – in Vietnamese culture, because of imperialism and diaspora,” the chef added. “Vietnamese dishes have evolved to fold in many facets of other identities.”
Restaurants Seizing Opportunity
The U.S. has become a hotbed for Vietnamese food, evidenced by the fact there are now nearly 8,000 Vietnamese restaurants stateside, according to The Tanner Food Group and SIAL America.
In its 2023 What’s Hot Culinary Forecast, the National Restaurant Association identified Southeast Asian cuisine (including Vietnamese, Singaporean, and Filipino dishes) as its top global trend.
The rise in popularity of Vietnamese dishes in particular is tied to “the wide range of flavors and textures associated,” said Michael Murdy, a food scientist and founder of robustkitchen.com. “The combination of sour, sweet, savory, and spicy flavors, as well as the use of fresh herbs and vegetables, makes Vietnamese food particularly attractive to people.”
“I’ve seen Vietnamese food making inroads in the U.S. for the last few years,” said Amy Marks-McGee of Trendincite.
The pandemic created an opportunity for restaurants offering bold international cuisine (like Vietnamese dishes) as many customers grew desperate for unique flavors not found in their pantry. Thus, fledgling Vietnamese restaurants that feature drive-thrus gained momentum, like Saigon Hustle in Houston, as reported by The Takeout.
Saigon Hustle opened along Texas’ Gulf Coast in February 2022 and was soon awarded $1 million from the private equity firm Savory Fund, The Takeout noted. The restaurant’s owners said they feel having a drive-thru tends to make eating unfamiliar, foreign food less intimidating for Americans.
Explaining Banh Mi’s Popularity
Banh mi sandwiches are often an understated delight, featuring supremely fresh ingredients like cilantro, lemongrass, carrots, and jalapenos, along with fish sauce, tender pork, and fresh baguettes – sometimes for as little as $6, as noted in a recent Seattle Times article.
One reason the banh mi sandwich has gained acceptance in the U.S.: “It tastes familiar and slightly different, all at the same time,” Phu said.
“Pho and banh mi are the classics,” the chef added of Vietnamese cuisine, “but it’s my conviction that [soups like] bún riêu, bún mắm and bánh canh are growing in popularity – exponentially.”