Makes 1 Sandwich
The Vietnamese Bánh Mi, a widely popular sandwich in America these days is a quintessential fusion food from Southeast Asia that combines French and Chinese tastes and textures in one portable meal. The crisp, delicate baguette, silken aioli and cooked meats (originally patés) are classic French. With those are Chinese accents of pickled and raw fresh vegetables, cilantro and tongue searing hot chilies. After forty years of relative obscurity in Vietnam, the Bánh Mi and a wide range of other fascinating Vietnamese foods were brought to America by war refugees.
The signature flavors of Bánh Mi are pretty simple: a little mayonnaise, grilled, roasted or fried meat, poultry, fish or tofu combined with fresh and pickled vegetables and seriously hot chilies tucked into delicate French bread. What makes this sandwich unique (and the cook’s challenge) is that every flavor holds its own identity.
As the Bánh Mi gained popularity in America it predictably slid into a fast food mode. Sadly, most of the pre wrapped and labeled “Bánh Mi to go” have no more in common with the original sandwich than Mc Nuggets have with real southern fried chicken.
Following are two Bánh Mi sandwiches. One is traditional Vietnamese made with braised pork and the other is made with grilled shrimp.
- The baguette should be fresh and classic French style, soft in the center with a crust that is crisp but not hard. Cheap baguette copies will smash and glue the filling to the bread.
- Several traditional recipes call for slicing the bread close to but not through the edge on one side. For me that makes the sandwich too big on the open side to bite into easily. I prefer to cut the bread all the way through.
- More is not better with vegetables; you want to be able to taste every ingredient in the sandwich.
- Use the fresh chili pepper you like best. I prefer Poblano to Jalapeno.
- Slice the vegetables paper thin; he carrots should be shredded in julienne shape. You need a very, very sharp knife, a mandolin or a slicer made in Japan that is a plastic base with 3 finely honed, stainless blades. They are sold at Uwajimaya. Mine is 20 years old and still works perfectly.
- Use unseasoned rice vinegar for the pickling sauce; the seasoned style is too salty.
French baguette sliced horizontally into 6” lengths
2 tbs. mayonnaise (preferably homemade)
Enough cooked meat, seafood, poultry or fried tofu to cover bottom half of bread in one layer
Scallion or red onion, thinly sliced
Chili pepper, thinly sliced, seeds removed
Cucumber, thinly sliced, preferably seedless Japanese or English
A scant ¼ cup shredded or finely julienne sliced carrots and thinly sliced Red or Daikon radish marinated together in Pickling Sauce*
3 stems fresh cilantro, pick small stems away from main stem and discard
*Pickling Sauce (Makes 2/3 cup): Mix 2 tsp. soy sauce, 3 tsp. sugar, ½ cup unseasoned rice vinegar, ¼ cup water
- Spread bread with a light coating of mayonnaise. Layer meat, seafood or poultry on bottom layer. Add onion, cucumber and chili pepper.
- Remove carrots and radish from brine with a slotted spoon and add them and cilantro. Top the filling with the other half of bread. Cut the sandwich in half and serve immediately.
I added pickled yellow bell pepper to the Grilled Shrimp Bánh Mi because I had a leftover half pepper in the refrigerator, and fresh arugula to the Braised Pork Bánh Mi because it was in the garden and ready to be picked.