Among all versions of the iconic Vietnamese sandwich, the spicy banh mi of Hai Phong might be the smallest, but don't let that fool you into thinking it's any less than its larger siblings.
Hai Phong's spicy banh mi is unique. Instead of fillings like meat or vegetables, this banh mi is only filled with pate and eaten with a special chilli sauce, known as 'chi chuong'.
The traditional recipe from the city's original ingredients of pate and chilli sauce is key to ensuring diners keep coming back for more.
Vietnamese people have long been proud of their banh mi, so much so the word was added to the dictionary in 2011.
Proving the popularity of the Hai Phong style, it's easy to find vendor stalls all over the city selling this spicy banh mi.
Banh Mi Cay – Chinh Hieu Ba Gia (Spicy Banh Mi – Old Lady) was one of the first spicy banh mi shops to open in Hai Phong. This little business has customers queuing up for this spicy treat from early morning until late at night.
Banh Mi Cay – Chinh Hieu Ba Gia (Spicy Banh Mi – Old Lady) was one of the first spicy banh mi shops in Hai Phong. VNS Photos Minh Phuong
Pham Thi Thuy, the owner of the shop, said: "Our family has been selling spicy banh mi for nearly 40 years, since my grandma's time.
"This banh mi consists of a baguette and pate filled inside. The pate has meat and liver as the main ingredients.
"It is called spicy banh mi, so it always serves with chilli sauce. This sauce is special and originates from Hai Phong. We always leave the sauce outside so customers can choose whether to put it in or not."
Good pate should be smooth in texture, with pork evenly spread over the surface. VNS Photo Minh Phuong
Good pate should be smooth in texture, with pork evenly spread over the surface. The pate should be slightly pink with white spots of pork fat. The flavour must be liver and garlic. The maker will add seasonings, including salt or pepper, to suit taste.
The unique chilli sauce 'chi chuong' is a mixture of chilli, tomatoes, garlic and salt. The spicy of this sauce stimulates your taste buds.
Thuy said: "Spicy banh mi is only filled with pate, so the pate is the ingredient that determines whether banh mi tastes delicious or not. Therefore, making pate becomes one of the most important processes when making this banh mi," she added.
"We must choose high-quality ingredients, maintain the pate quality and even make it better every day."
At the cost of VND3,000 (0.13 US cents) each, this small banh mi is a perfect breakfast choice or a small meal during the day for residents. To have a stomach full, five to six banh mi is enough.
Each spicy banh mi only costs VND 3,000 (0.13 US cents). VNS Photo Ly Ly Cao
Nguyen Ngoc Tuyen, a local resident, said that the spicy banh mi is his first choice for breakfast. Many in Hai Phong eat spicy banh mi as a habit from their childhood.
Tuyen said: "I usually eat this spicy banh mi. This banh mi is small, only two fingers in width, so you can eat a lot, two, three or even 10.
"I sometimes buy it and send it to my friends in other localities as a gift."
Tourists are also curious about this speciality. Many try it whenever they have a chance to visit the city.
Visitors are curious to try the spicy banh mi of Hai Phong. VNS Photo Ly Ly Cao
Nguyen Tuong Quan, a visitor from Nghe An, with his girlfriend also enjoy eating this modest banh mi.
Quan said: "Hai Phong is famous for its spicy banh mi, this banh mi shop is near where we stay on our trip, so we decide to drop by to try."
"This banh mi is crusty. However, it tastes delicious even though its only filling is pate. I feel like this banh mi still keeps the taste of the traditional banh mi, which I had during my childhood.
"It is small, so it does not take much time to eat. I think about five of these is enough for breakfast."
Vo Nhu Ha is paying a working trip to the city for two days. Despite her busy schedule, she found time to find a spicy banh mi shop to taste this local food.
Ha said: "The spicy banh mi is a delicacy of Hai Phong, so I took the time to pass by here to try some local food. It looks different to what I usually see in HCM City.
"In HCM City, we often called it bread stick, which is longer than this. I will try to see how it tastes."
This coastal city is like culinary heaven for food lovers and the spicy banh mi has helped add more taste to the city.
Thuy said: "Customers buy spicy banh mi for their family as a small meal and some buy it as a gift for their friends. Sometimes, I even receive an order on Vietnamese Women's Day to deliver it to their female friends living in other provinces.
"I feel thrilled that now many people, even foreigners, love eating this banh mi. Many people even choose Hai Phong as a travel destination to enjoy this banh mi."