To order a special Vietnamese sandwich, I approach the food cart or counter and say. Without fail, I succumb to a roaming banh mi seller with their products elegantly showcased or a busy Vietnamese bakery or deli promoting the sandwiches. Sweet rice with coconut, exotic fruit smoothies, and fried dumplings compete for my focus, countless delicious snacks entice me whenever I venture through the streets of Vietnam and Little Saigon communities.
Today, I went back to the food street where it was very exciting and delicious. It reminded me of my father’s friends who first introduced me to biet dac in Saigon in the early 1940s. I was born in Saigon, the city where biet dac originated.
I get to ingest the culture and history of Vietnam both at home and abroad by eating a bowl of pho for less than a dollar in Vietnam, where mi banh is a ubiquitous and beloved cuisine that defines Vietnamese foodways. This amalgam of Vietnamese cuisine beautifully melds the unusual juxtaposition of ingredients, reinventing and adopting foreign foodways while honoring the legacy of Chinese and French colonialism through the meats, condiments, and bread in the beloved and ubiquitous mi banh.
The umami-rich European condiment, Maggi Seasoning Sauce, adds a savory flavor to dishes with its intense and distinct notes. If you’re going for an extravagant meal, they’ll use this sauce to add a touch of sophistication. It enhances the taste of the sandwich maker’s crispy baguette by drizzling it with a dash of soy sauce, while also moistening it with a lick of fresh mayonnaise, all to fulfill my sandwich request.
The featured protein element in the classic Vietnamese dish known as lua gio is often a tender-chewy and marble-like pinkish-red rind that appears crunchy, similar to headcheese, with thin slices of cold-cuts and a garlicky smear of pork liver pate. This special dish is essentially a favorite, but it can also be a single item, such as grilled chicken or pork roast.
Vietnamese cured meats display an incredible combination of flavors and textures, ranging from lean to fatty, bright to earthy. Some local makers even prepare their own array of meats, making it the best source for these amazing renditions.
I typically go for the whole shebang, but if you’re not a heat seeker, especially if you don’t have all of them, you don’t need to include them. These vegetables practically have a cheery color and crunchy texture, filled with vibrant flavor from their meats and counter. It’s practically a salad filled baguette that gets filled with refreshing cilantro sprigs, spicy chili slices, and tangy pickles of carrot and daikon, all wrapped in plain paper and secured with a rubber band.
I have eaten many mi banh sandwiches, which were made at home and of course, crafted by professionals, regardless of the filling and sourcing. My expectations are always met at the first bite, as the delicate baguette shatters to give way to the eggy mayonnaise and soy hit, followed by crunchy and protein-rich layers of vegetables.
Should be immediately eaten as a sandwich for instant gratification.
The Banh Mi Handbook comes out on Tuesday, July 8. Join me to make and create a bunch of tasty Vietnamese sandwiches!