World chefs: Vietnamese street meets high finance

Tue Oct 25, 2011 5:04am EDT
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By Simon Falush

LONDON (Reuters) - Making and selling Vietnamese street food may seem a world away from dealing in World Bank debt, but Anh Vu does both, and says that working a stall in East London markets sharpens the skills needed to thrive in investment banking.

Vu combines a job as a trader of supra-national debt for HSBC with running a market stall named Banh Mi 11, with her business partner, best friend and housemate Van Tran, who recently left a similar job at JPMorgan to focus on a growing business.

Vu and Tran sell banh mi, French-influenced baguette sandwiches that are found on the streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

They offer traditional fillings like pate, pork and coriander, but also draw inspiration from elsewhere in Vietnamese cuisine to concoct sandwiches such as grilled turmeric catfish, tossed with dill and spring onion.

Here they talk authenticity, multi-tasking and why they are expanding into pop-up restaurants.

Q: Why did you start the stall, you had plenty to keep you occupied with jobs in investment banks?

A: We missed really good banh mi. In some way we were naive, we just love food. Banh mi, is one of the things you can't really make at home, it's one of the things you have to go on the street to get.

When we lived in New York, we used to go from Queens to China Town to get a banh mi. And in Paris there are a few shops in the Vietnamese districts like Belleville. But you didn't get that here in London.   Continued...