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Aug 9, 2009 02:20 PM

Banh Mi Pronunciation

Ok everyone, I need some pronunciation clarity for the Vietnamese ban mi. I've always said "b-ah-n me," but when I was watching a PBS show called "Sandwiches That You Will Like" the shop they went to specifically said it's pronounced "b-un me." Whose in the right?

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  1. The shop is right. it's "b-un me" using your rendering.

    8 Replies
      1. re: Professor Salt

        Um, I'm Vietnamese and that's not how we pronounce it. At least, in the dialect that I am familiar with. ReelMike84 got it right the first time.

        Banh = bread
        Bun = noodle

        edit: The shop that PBS went to... was it a real vietnamese shop or an americanized one? I see that you're in So.Cal., check out the Lee's Sandwhiches or Banh Mi Cali chains ;)

        1. re: tonicart

          Hmmm... so maybe either way is acceptable?

          I live in the SFV and have only eaten 4 banh mi's in my life, all from the same place (hehe not in one sitting thought); The Banh Mi Cali on Brookhurst.

          I had my fist one a couple years ago and loved it, and have back ever since only when I know I'm gonna be in the area.

          I just ate my 4th one that my girlfriends parents brought to my apartment on their way through Tarzana from San Diego. I think I've come to the realization I enjoy them even more a little warm and eaten in the store.

          1. re: ReelMike84

            #5 (BBQ Pork, not the red BBQ one) at Lee's is my favorite. Don't forget the iced Vietnamese coffee. Old men just lounge around outside the shops on weekends sipping the coffee while the ice melts =) A good sandwhich and coffee for less than $5, who could ask for anything more?

            IMO, Lee's bread is better, it's crunchy, buttery, soft on the inside. Banh Mi Cali's is just the average banh mi bread that I usually save for feeding my fish, haha

          2. re: tonicart

            Doesn't bún (noodle) have a long vowel, meaning it is pronounced like the English word "boon?" Bánh has a short vowel, so it is pronounced like the English word "bun." Or am I totally wrong?

            1. re: tonicart

              Off topic a bit but, is Banh a common surname in Vietnam? I worked with someone who was Vietnamese-Chinese. His name was Bahn, Hua Than (he called himself Peter).

              1. re: mucho gordo

                Banh isn't common but is a surnam. Totally different pronounciation, though. :) (Don't know "Hua," though ... Hao, Hoai, etc.)

                OP: Try this website. The guy's northern accent isn't phenomenal, but the southern accent is right on.

                1. re: Ali

                  Thanks, Ali. Could have been Hoa, not Hua, I don't remember (and it's not important; I was just curious).

            1. re: pikawicca

              It's just the Vietnamized version of "pain de mie".

              1. re: Will Owen

                That doesn't make sense. Bread wise, pain de mie (all crumb, no crust) is the exact opposite of baguette (mostly crust, little crumb)

                FWIW, we might have confusion over how we're rendering the pronunciation. The Vietnamese speakers in the shops near me (Little Saigon, So Cal) say it bun (like hamburger bun, but shorter) mi.

                1. re: Professor Salt

                  i know this is old, but the baguettes in little saigon (CA) are mostly crumb, little crust) - so that would make them like pain de mie. and i'm assuming that the Vietnamese people in Little Saigon are making baguettes the way they did in Vietnam. (i.e., deliciously.) as Will Owen said, I always understood bahn mi to be the Vietnamese way of saying pain de mie. the word banh encompasses all types of breadlike, starchy thing.

                2. re: Will Owen

                  The literal translation of banh mi is bread. I speak Cantonese and Banh Mi, which is pronounced "bun me" sounds an awful lot like "mian bao" which means bread in Chinese. In fact, when discussing banh mi in Chinese we call it mian bao.

                  1. re: Will Owen

                    It was a French-speaking Vietnamese waiter we had at a rawther fahncy Vietnamese restaurant (that was actually pretty good) who told us the bit about pain de mie. Perhaps it was just wishful thinking on his part, but our mostly French and entirely food-loving family seemed to think it made sense.

                    1. re: Will Owen

                      But it doesn't make a lot of sense when you consider that there are a number of Vietnamese dishes whose names incorporate the word banh (ex., banh xeo, banh cuon, banh chung, etc.) that have nothing to do with bread in the western sense.

                      The Wikipedia entry for banh says, in part: "Bánh is a Vietnamese term translating loosely as "cake" or "bread" that is used to refer to a wide variety of foods eaten by hand. With the addition of qualifying adjectives bánh refers to a wide variety of sweet or savoury, distinct cakes, buns, pastries, sandwiches, and food items from Vietnamese cuisine, which may be cooked by steaming, baking, frying, deep-frying, or boiling."


                      1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                        So it could still have the same relation to the French "pain" as the Japanese "panko" has to the Portuguese "pan". Colonialism left great numbers of marks on the languages of lots of colonizers and lots of foreign colonies: the Indonesian "ketsap" and the Dutch "ketjaap" leading to you-know-what, f'rinstance.

                        1. re: Will Owen

                          Well, I can't speak to Vietnamese etymology, and I don't speak the language (the only Vietnamese terms I even know come from menus), but my understanding of banh is that it refers both to a category of dishes (roughly, snacky things both sweet and savory that might be eaten out of hand) and to a category of foods (things made from doughs or batters), which is why it needs a qualifying adjective before it indicates a specific foodstuff. Not knowing the actual etymology, it nevertheless seems unlikely that this whole category a) flowed from pain, which has the fairly specific meaning that bread does in English, or b) was named post-creation of French Indochina, though certainly banh mi, the baguette and sandwich did.

                          1. re: Will Owen

                            IIRC, "Panko" is "pan" (bread) + the suffix "ko" (child).

                            1. re: OCAnn

                              Different character for "ko." It's the same one as komugiko: wheat flour.


                              1. re: Professor Salt

                                LOL...20 years after my Japanese linguistics class at university, I thought panko meant little bread-lettes! Thank you clarifying the correct Chinese character. =)

                                1. re: Professor Salt

                                  "粉" itself just means flour or powder.....And the Portuguese never had a colony in Japan...

                              2. re: Will Owen

                                ketchup actually has chinese origins ;)

                                1. re: pdpredtide

                                  Or Indonesian - kecap manis has been rumored to be where ketchup came from.

                                  And I believe the Portuguese had something to do with Nagasaki way back in the day.

                      2. banh is any starch, noodle, dough, bread, cake, etc. Banh pho, banh cam, banh bao, banh cuon, banh ngot, etc. all vastly different foods tied together by their classification as starch based.

                        banh mi sounds like bunn in bunny (rabbit), except unless you know VN tones you won't get the vowel tone exactly right, but close enough for you... plus mee for S. VN people, but in Northern dialect it sounds like bang (rhymes with hang) mee.

                        In bun the -u- phoneme is similar to the English -u- in the word put.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: luckyfatima

                          Interesting - I've always said bahn such that it rhymes with dawn, fawn, etc. I was watching a Bordain show and he & the person he was with kept saying bahn as in van, ban, bang, etc. Looks like my pronunciation was always wrong, but now I know that the Bordain version was fine.

                          1. re: jgg13

                            Bang is ok. The way I say it, it kind of rhymes with the Italian pane (bread.)