Banh Mi stand

How to Pronounce “Bánh Mì” and What Does it Mean?

Photo by Van Thanh on Unsplash

Bánh (up tone) (down tone) is pronounced like “bang me”. Bánh loosely means “bread” (or baked-good, more generally) and means “wheat flour”.

What are Vietnamese Sandwiches Called?

Bánh mì generally refers to the famous Vietnamese spicy sandwich that has become popular in every major metropolis in the world. Within Vietnam, Bánh mì occupies the same fast-food niche as a hamburger does in the USA, or a falefel in Europe: a quick, cheap, hand-held savoury all-in-one meal consisting of a mix of vegies, protein, bread and a spicy-sweet sauce.

The emphasis on fresh rau (fresh herbs) and the diversity of ingredients makes bánh mì a healthier meal than its American dopplegangers. Backpackers in Vietnam are known to live almost exclusively on these tasty, healthy meals. You can find small bánh mì carts all over Vietnam, from small side-streets at 7am, to bustling night-life avenues at 11pm.

Double Meaning

“Bánh mì” has two meanings depending on context: it can refer to the sandwich and/or the bread that constructs the sandwich. So when someone offers you Bánh mì, it depends on the context to know what they mean.

Why? It is similar to the way that English-speakers use “noodle” or “spegetti”: when someone offers you a “noodle” dish, they don’t just mean a plate of plain noodles, but an entire noodle-based meal including the broth, vegetables, and meat. In contrast, “noodles” at a grocery store just refers to the dried noodles specifically. Likewise, bánh mì can refer to a meal, or to just the plain bread.


The culinary origins of Bánh comes from the French pan (bread). But, the food has become fully absorbed into the local culture. It is interesting to note that Vietnam is the only East Asian culture that considers levened bread as one of its core staples: most other Asian countries have either an unlevened flat-bread (like India) or none at all. Most Asian countries use rice flour to make dense cake-like analogues.

For more information about the perfect Bánh mì recipe, click here.

Everything is “Bánh”

Bánh can literally refer to anything that is a Western-style baked-good or levened fried-good made from flour, both sweet or savory, including:

  • bread – bánh mì
  • cake – bánh gato (i.e., gateau)
  • pancake – bánh kếp
  • croissant – bánh sừng bò
  • doughnut – bánh vòng
  • biscuit/cookie – bánh quy
  • rice paper – bánh tráng

… but it does not refer to wheat noodles.

This type of overloading of words is very common in Vietnam: the core word (bánh) has a “prototype” (bread) but also refers to a wide variety of loosely-related items that are difficult to define exactly (everything flour-based from the West). For example, cookies are also bánh (quy), but wheat-based noodles are not.

Make sense? It may be difficult to precisely define, but you just know it when you see it.

Wheels… also Bánh?

If the overloading of Bánh wasn’t bad enough, bánh also means wheels, prounced exactly the same way with the same upwards-tone. They are consider homonymic words: they are pronounced the same but with entirely different meanings.

  • Bánh xe – wheel

Our perfect bánh mì recipe, authentically Vietnamese

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply