Several people, including Vietnamese students at the University of Minnesota, have voiced criticism toward a sandwich Erbert & Gerbert’s launched last month: a plant-based roasted red pepper bánh mì.
In addition to cucumbers and jalapeño, the Erbert & Gerbert’s sandwich contains roasted red peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, barbecue sauce and a cilantro-mint aioli. The sandwich retains few ingredients from the traditional Vietnamese bánh mì. It leaves out the signature crackly bread— typically made with a blend of wheat and rice flour— and the characteristic paté, pickled carrots and daikon, leading many Vietnamese students to feel that the sandwich appropriated their culture.
“You'd never find sweet roasted red peppers in a bánh mì, and probably no barbecue in there because that's just not even regionally correct,” said Christina Nguyen, chef and owner of Hai Hai, a Vietnamese restaurant in Northeast Minneapolis. “ … I just think that they didn’t do their research, and that it’s nothing like a bánh mì. It’s weird that they’re calling it that.”
There are two Erbert & Gerbert’s franchises around campus, one in Coffman Union and another in Dinkytown.
When Erbert and Gerbert’s debuted its “bánh mì,” University of Minnesota Dining Services posted an Instagram story promoting the new product, which caught the eye of Trong Cu, a Vietnamese student at the University.
Cu said he was "repulsed" by the sandwich that was labeled a bánh mì. “When an organization exploits [culture] and uses it to profit by putting a name on something that is not true, we create this false representation of our identity,” he said.
For Cu, Erbert & Gerbert’s sandwich is reminiscent of the French colonization of Vietnam—the influences of which appear in the baguette, paté and mayonnaise used to make bánh mì.
“Our history has come from colonization already,” Cu said. “But in this modern society, we're being exploited again — extorted once again — once again, to be profited off from.”
Thi Bui, a fourth-year student, said the Erbert & Gerbert’s product resembled a sub sandwich.
“There's no way someone in the higher-ups that was Asian-identifying gave out the approval to do that,” she said.
The announcement of the new product on Facebook also elicited backlash in the comments section. In response, the fast-food chain addressed the criticism with a Facebook comment.
“Erbert and Gerbert’s uses inspiration from all over the world to bring flavorful sandwiches to its customers. We apologize for any offense that our most recent creation has caused. The feedback that has been shared is important to us and we’ll use it to guide us in the future,” the comment reads.
To fourth-year student Kevin Huynh, the company is appropriating Vietnamese culture as a branding technique. “Erbert & Gerbert’s is a big corporation [which has] the money to do research before throwing out a sandwich like that with no culture sensitivity,” he said.
There are plenty of different kinds of bánh mì, and riffs on the Vietnamese sandwich are common, according to Nguyen. Though bánh mì can have almost anything on it, it is highly unlikely that it would include sweet roasted red peppers, barbecue sauce, tomatoes or lettuce, she said.
“You can have a lot of fun with the different flavors as long as the bones are there.”