Banh Mi | Word of the Month

banh miScan any recipe site or flick through any cookbook and I’d be surprised if you didn’t come across an example of a fusion dish (= a dish created using a combination of cooking styles and ingredients from different countries, regions or ethnic groups). Sushi pizza, pad thai tacos, bhaji burgers; the list is endless. Our enthusiasm for fusion food has resulted in the creation of many distinct culinary styles, like Tex-Mex, for example, which describes the type of Mexican food that’s commonly found in Texas and the southwest part of the US. Although the term ‘fusion cuisine’ was coined in the 1980s, people have been creating culinary mash-ups for centuries. An example of a fusion dish that was developed at least twenty years before anyone started talking about fusion food is the banh mi, which fuses Vietnamese and French cuisine.

What does it mean?

A banh mi is a type of Vietnamese baguette sandwich that’s typically filled with varying combinations of cold meats and pickled vegetables from Vietnamese cuisine, French ingredients such as pâté and mayonnaise, and additions like coriander, cucumber and chilli sauce. The pronunciation is /ˌbɑːn ˈmiː/. In Vietnam, a banh mi is usually eaten for breakfast or as a snack.

The baguette was introduced in Vietnam in the mid-nineteenth century when Vietnam fell under French colonial rule. The banh mi is believed to have been invented in Saigon much later in the 1950s, and it has since become one of Vietnam’s most iconic specialities.

The term banh mi means ‘bread’ in Vietnamese, and the plural form is also banh mi:

That stall makes the best banh mi in Ho Chi Minh City.

Banh mi is also often used as a modifier:

Vietnamese options include classics such as banh mi sandwiches […]

Dozens of banh mi shops populate the region […]

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the evidence suggests that the ‘fusion’ aspect of banh mi is sometimes taken a step further, with another type of cuisine thrown into the mix:

Keep an eye out for the banh mi tacos […]

How popular is the word?

The popularity of banh mi is highlighted by the fact that, before the word was added to Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries online earlier this year, it regularly appeared at the top of the list of words that users looked up most frequently, but that didn’t yet exist in the dictionary. Another Vietnamese dish that was added in our most recent update is pho, pronounced /fɜ/ (British English) or /fə/ (North American English), which is a type of soup, usually served with rice noodles, slices of beef or chicken, and herbs:

In Vietnam pho can be eaten at all meals.

In fact, more than 80% of the entries we added in our most recent update are words for food or drink. I wonder if you can guess which countries these recently added food items originate from. Do you know what they all mean?

Quiz

  1. macaron
  2. schnitzel
  3. sticky toffee pudding
  4. arancini
  5. yuzu
  6. rendang
  7. barbacoa
  8. kefir

Although many of us haven’t managed to travel to far-flung destinations and try out the local cuisine over the past year or two, it only takes a quick internet search to see that our collective interest in international food hasn’t waned. Who’s to say where our next culinary journeys will take us and which new foods and fusion dishes will make their way onto our plates and into the dictionary.

Answers:

  1. France
  2. Germany
  3. England
  4. Italy
  5. Japan
  6. Malaysia and Indonesia
  7. Mexico
  8. Russia

You can see all the new words and phrases added to OLD here.


Leonie Hey taught English in Sardinia and worked as a language teacher in the UK before joining OUP in 2011 to work on monolingual and bilingual learners’ dictionaries.

Author: Oxford University Press ELT

The official global blog for Oxford University Press English Language Teaching. Bringing teachers and learners top quality resources, tools, hints and tips, news, ideas, insights and discussions to help people around the world to learn English.

One thought

  1. Thank you very much for your newsletter emails and the information. I have followed it and have used it with my MA students in the Course, The Practical Use of English. I occasionally announce the word of the month or that of the year at the moment when I see it can catch their attention and when I almost know that the word will find its way to the students’ mind. We do not exercise words of the month or those of the year, but we talk of their meaning and illustrate. I have also used your suggestions for classroom organisation, different tips and briefs. Thank you very much. This is the first time that I noticed this invitation to leave a reply, but I meant to write to and did not because I feared to hit a no-reply address. Thank you.

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