Bánh mì

I’ve always loved a good sandwich on a crusty french roll.

Lately, Vietnamese sandwiches, aka Bánh mì, have been becoming more institutionalized in American culture (as evidenced by the Wikipedia entry). A large immigrant population, combined with how ridiculously cheap these sandwiches are — and of course how tasty they are too — have helped bánh mì to become part of the culinary landscape of many North American cities.

When eating at a deli, I tend to stick with the predictable — bbq pork, grilled lemongrass pork or grilled beef. You can go nuts and get paté or other strange spreads and offal bits (as my mom and sister are wont to do), but those things sort of freak me out. Part of it I think goes back to when I was 8 years old, visiting relatives in Paris. I was holed up in a hotel room (because as a young kid I was complete prick and never wanted to do anything), listening to Blondie with nothing to eat except a baguette and various tins of paté. That same trip I ordered a steak at a sidewalk bistro and it came out so bloody rare that I swore the heifer was still chomping the cud, and was subsequently pretty freaked out about the entire Franchophilia thing in general.

At home I’ll make my sandwiches with pork meatloaf, which is sort of like an emulsified forcemeat, a Vietnamese bologna. Growing up, we called this stuff “Hong Kong meat”, which I presume was a vaguely pejorative term coined by mom to refer to its erstwhile status in comparison to “real” meat, Hong Kong being at the time the origin of her Louis Vuitton knockoffs.

So why even make these sandwiches at home, when they are ridiculously cheap, sometimes even only $1.75 per sandwich? It’s all about the quality control. First of all, you’ll notice the meat to bread ratio of bánh mì is pretty low. You’re getting mostly bread – I don’t think you’ll ever confuse a commercial Viet sandwich as being “overstuffed.” Second, you can really go crazy and load on the garnishes – unless you know the language and the person making the sandwich, you’ll have a difficult time cajoling extra peppers or cilantro. It’s not Subway.

Assembling a sandwich is fairly simple: slice the pork loaf, top with daikon radish and carrots, julienne jalapenos peppers, sliced cucumber, and toast. After toasting, garnish with lots of cilantro (if you’re like me), and douse liberally with Maggi. That’s another bonus of making these at home — if you are so inclined you can really make the sandwich a veritable salt bomb by soaking the surface of the toasted french roll.

Hong Phat market (NE 99th and Prescott) sells cartons of pre-marinated, julienne daikon and carrots for $2.50, and it is enough to dress probably a half-dozen (or more) sandwiches. Keep in mind, this stuff smells like ass and will commandeer your entire fridge, not to mention probably imbue its nasty ass perfume to a few of the less sturdy items in your freezer as well.

The french rolls used for bánh mì can be picked up at pretty much any Vietnamese market in town (Hong Phat, Than Thao on Sandy/65th, Fubonn), and are usually around 5 for $1.50. Untoasted, these can be a bit too fluffy and doughy, so make sure you toast them, as they will become much more palatable. You are even better off picking up a mini baguette from New Seasons, as that has a better crust.

Bahn-Mi1

This is the brand of pork loaf I commonly buy – it’s available in most Vietnamese markets. It is one of the few brands that has nutritional information, and also appears to be the leanest. Keep in mind that there are a couple other variations, with pork skin added, if that’s your thing. For me it’s a little too weird, with a ring of translucent, gelatinous fat that runs the length of the loaf.

Bahn-Mi2

This stuff smells like ass, but is essential for a good bánh mì. Maybe I should make my own to try to temper the ass out of the smell.

Bahn-Mi4

Ah, good old Maggi, liquidized vegetable protein and potent MSG delivery vehicle. Abide by the firm suggestion on the label – a few dashes. It’s much saltier than soy sauce. This is the bulk, Americanized bottle – the gold standard is the actual Swiss brewed nectar that comes in much smaller bottles yet is twice the price.

Bahn-Mi5

Fully dressed bánh mì.

Bahn-Mi6

Bahn-Mi7