Last month, food marketing research firm Datassential released the results of what it calls its “Sandwich Keynote Report.” It’s a study that the firm conducts every three years, polling 1,000 consumers and combing through restaurant menus across the country to determine purchasing behaviors.
There are some vaguely compelling nuggets in this latest report—51 percent of respondents swear by grilled cheeses. Forty-four percent of those polled “love” toast. Fifty-eight percent of adults pack sandwiches for lunch at least once per week. Fascinating.
The most compelling finding from the report, though, is the fact that the fastest-growing sandwich on menus over the past four years is the bánh mì, that melange of pickled produce and protein, from pâté to pork, sitting in a baguette. Bánh mì’s “menu penetration,” the frequency with which it appears on restaurant menus, has gone up a walloping 393 percent over the past four years. The terrain for sandwiches has changed rather drastically since the firm’s last report: For context, the sandwich that laid claim to this title in 2014 was the Cubano, that slab of pressed ham, roast pork, and cheese between two slices of bread.
“With bánh mì,” my friend Andrea Nguyen writes in the introduction to 2014’s The Bánh Mì Handbook, “you get to ingest Vietnam’s delectable history and culture.” Her book does a lovely job of not only functioning as a how-to, but charting this sandwich’s elliptical and complicated history, illustrating how Vietnam’s Chinese and French colonial history has etched itself upon this sandwich. She also documents how this sandwich made its stateside landing, shuttled over to the states largely by immigrants and refugees before it began permeating more eateries outside of those enclaves.
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I’m quite hesitant to call a sandwich some of us have been eating for years a “trend,” or to couch its welcome popularity in the language of discovery. It’d also be unwise to do so: Bánh mì is still, by Datassential’s count, only on about 2 percent of restaurant sandwich menus across the country. Either way, the news is certainly heartening; everyone should be eating bánh mì. For the uninitiated, I’d take a look at some of the killer bánh mì recipes we've got on the site.
Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.