Makes your Banh Mi Sandwich!
The Vietnamese people are rich with entrepreneurial spirit. Opening a small business or providing a service is one of the most common ways that people here make money and it also gives rise to some of the most unique jobs in the world! From cyclo drivers to yoke-carrying food sellers to fruit stand operators to motorcycle taxi drivers, in Vietnam you see it all! They are the workhorse of the Vietnamese economy because not only do they help raise Vietnam’s median household income, they also promote tourism in the country. Many of these workers have very little formal education and yet they have an immense amount of drive and passion for what they do. They are the people you see every day on the street earning a living, feeding themselves and their families, and enjoying their lives along the way. We went out to interview some people with really unique and interesting jobs to learn about their daily routine. Little did we know how rewarding and humbling an experience it would be. Over the next few weeks, we will bring you stories of these incredibly interesting people and give you a glimpse into their life and work in Vietnam.
This week, we spoke with Tuyet Anh. She runs a Banh Mi stand next to an elementary school in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City. She looks really young for a 52 year old, but maybe it’s because she’s always so well put together. On the particular day we spoke to her, she looked positively radiant, as if she had just woken up to start her day. We were surprised to learn that she had been awake since 3 am! This is usually the time she wakes up to prepare all the meats and fillings for the day. Each morning, she slices vegetables, pickles some of them, chops herbs, slices meat, etc. All of this before 6 am when she starts the stand! If you are unfamiliar with all the fixings of a Banh Mi sandwich, we suggest you read our Banh Mi blog. It’s not an easy feat to prepare all of these items at 3 am and still be cheery and upbeat come noontime. She usually keeps the stand open until about 1 pm. The school kids get out of class at around noon and very soon after that her stand is surrounded by hoards of young children drooling over the smell of fried eggs and fresh bread!
Life of a lady who sells Banh Mi in Ho Chi Minh city
XO: Ms. Anh, what inspired you to start a Banh Mi stand?
Ms. Anh: My husband died two years ago. He drank too much alcohol. He was very ill for a long time so he could not work. He was a policeman. I started selling Banh Mi 9 years ago for more money because at that time my daughter was not married yet. My mother used to sell Banh Mi when I was younger so it was easy for me to choose this business.
XO: And who do you support?
Ms. Anh: Well, my daughter is married but I live with her and my son-in-law so I help out a bit with the house. I live here actually [points to the home next to the stand]. I also support my mother.
XO: That’s a lot of people that you support on one income! How much do you earn?
Ms. Anh: I make 2 million VND a week on average. Sometimes, it’s less and sometimes it’s more. I don’t spend very much. But vegetables and meat and bread are expensive.
XO: Tell us about how much you sell each sandwich for and what your specialty is.
Ms. Anh: You’re eating the special sandwich! [It’s true… we chowed down on her delicious Banh Mi sandwich as we were speaking with her!] Normal sandwiches are 15000 VND and this one [referring to the special sandwich] is 20000 VND. It has all the fillings and the special homemade sauce.
XO: Yes this sauce is delicious! What is in it?
Ms. Anh: Why? You want to sell sandwiches too?
XO: 😀 How much did you start selling sandwiches for when you first opened up shop?
Ms. Anh: 4000 VND! Each year I increase by 1- or 2000!
XO: We hear that you are only open Monday to Friday now. Business is good?
Ms. Anh: Yes I get lots of customers who come back and they like my sandwiches. They work only Monday to Friday so many people don’t eat Banh Mi on the weekend. I make enough money so I enjoy my free time.
XO: So what do you do on your free time? Do you go out for dinner often?
Ms. Anh: Sometimes. I like Chinese food a lot. My sisters and I will go out for Chinese food in District 5.
XO: What about traveling? Do you go away for the weekend ever or take a trip somewhere?
Ms. Anh: No I have too many responsibilities and not enough money. My friends always say they want me to go with them and they offer to pay, but no. I don’t want to.
XO: Ms. Anh, can we take a picture of you?
Ms. Anh: Okay only if you make me look beautiful in the photo!
You can find Ms. Tuyet Anh and her stand near the corner of Nguyen Du and Dang Tran Con in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City. She is there from 6 AM until about 1 PM (or until she runs out of bread) from Monday to Friday. Ask for the special sauce on your sandwich, and tell her you saw her photo on the XO Tours blog and that she looked beautiful. 🙂
Stay tuned for more Vietnam travel tips and tidbits on Vietnamese culture. If you would like to learn more about Vietnamese culture, join us on our Sights Tour!