In Ha Long, black bread is the new banh mi

A group of men from Quang Ninh, home to Vietnam's biggest coal reserve, came up with the idea to bake black bread using squid ink and bamboo charcoal.

Bamimo banh mi shop in Ha Long Town in the northern province of Quang Ninh. 

The blackness of the bread (banh mi) catches the attention for its complete opposite hue to the regular golden yellow Vietnamese staple. The bread comes out of the oven crispy.

The filling of this exotic banh mi is also different, including minced fried squid, served together in small slices with hot sauce.

To make the sauce, the cook mixes onions, tomatoes, carrots, and oregano, simmered together with shrimp heads for an hour before pureeing.

The black banh mi was inspired by the land where it comes from, Quang Ninh, home to Vietnam's biggest coal reserve and exploitation. The northern province is called "land of coal mines".

A year ago, Khac Tuan, Nguyen Quyet and Pham Tuyen wanted to create a dish that reflects the essence of their hometown.

"We first thought about banh mi that could be served to coal miners between shifts, wanting to also introduce the specialty of squid cakes to tourists. From there, black bread became a reality," Tuan said.

To choose the right squid ink, the group had to test many market varieties as each type of squid produces different colors of ink. The selected squid is from Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO natural heritage site in Quang Ninh.

They spent an equal amount of time testing dough mixtures, which sometimes proved too hard or soggy. After about 20 failed attempts, Tuan and his friends were finally happy with the final result.

The shop also sells bigger size banh mi like these, enough to feed three to five people.

The shop sells between 300-700 servings a day. Besides squid cakes, eaters can choose other fillings including crab cakes, shrimp, BBQ chicken and roasted pork.

A serving costs between VND25,000-45,000 ($1-1.9) depending on the filling, with squid cakes priced higher than others.

Many curious diners visit the shop because of the uncanny-looking banh mi.

"The sauce is quite delicious, the bread is crispy. Both pickles and filling are served in the right amounts, eating one is enough to make you full for breakfast. The price is a bit high compared to usual," Phuong Thao, a customer said.

The shop is located at No.28 Phu Gia 3 residential complex, Vinhomes Ben Doan, Ha Long Town, Quang Ninh Province. It opens from 6h30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Banh mi is a favorite snack among both locals and tourists in Vietnam. A typical banh mi costs about VND20,000. Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post called Vietnam’s banh mi 'a cheap snack and global hit’ while British travel publication Culture Trip hailed it among the world’s best street snacks.

A typical banh mi is stuffed with anything from grilled pork, cold cuts and cucumber slices to cilantro, pickled carrots, liver pâté, and a swipe of mayonnaise.