When Anh Chaimontree was growing up in Hamilton she spent a lot of time in the kitchen with her grandmother, Hong Nguyen.
Her earliest job was pretty basic – plucking herbs – but her grandmother began teaching her more and more about the light, fresh flavours and ingredients that underpin her family's Vietnamese cuisine.
The family-style Vietnamese food that Anh learned from her grandmother remains at the heart of the restaurant, which offers a mix of classic Vietnamese street food, noodle dishes and salads. There is banh mi (filled baguette), banh xeo (savoury pancake); goi cuon (summer rolls); goi (mint and cabbage salad); bun (noodle salad); pho (noodle soup), and more. There is a vegan menu as well, and desserts such as rice pudding and Vietnamese-inspired banana cake.
Banh Mi Caphe is run by Anh and her chef husband, Pat Chaimontree.
Nowadays many more people get to enjoy Hong's recipes; they are the core of the menu at Banh Mi Caphe, the Vietnamese eatery in Victoria St.
"Our food is light, we want people to appreciate the herbs, the crunchy shallots and peanuts. The sauce or dressing is always just to finish, not drown the food; you still want to taste the coriander and mint."
Pat says herbs are key to Vietnamese food – the sharp flavours of coriander and mint – along with fresh vegetables, delicious sauces, noodles and broths. Vietnam's long-ago French colonisers also had a strong influence on local cuisine. Banh mi – the baguettes that his eatery is named for – are a case in point, a French standard filled with fresh Vietnamese ingredients.
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About story credit to: DENISE IRVINE