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Monday
Sep252006

Banh Mi for Beginners


Bánh Mì Thit Nuong (Vietnamese Barbecued-Pork Sandwich)

 
I'm normally not in the habit of eating two lunches, however much the idea might secretly appeal to me, which is why the decision I was faced with one sunny summer day in Seattle was so agonizing.

The decision might have not had to be made at all if I'd had more time on my hands, but like always when I'm home, I have too much to do and not enough time to do it in, and in this case I had one afternoon left in Seattle and two places on my list for lunch. Tempting me from one side was the opinion of nearly the entire food world that no trip to the Emerald City is complete without a meal at the famed Italian restaurant-cum-sandwich shop Salumi; on the other, however, was a lone newspaper review of an obscure Vietnamese joint called the Seattle Deli. For many the decision might have seemed obvious - where else can you get a sandwich made by Mario Batali's father, chock-full of artisan pork he's lovingly cured himself? The problem was that one of my goals on this particular trip was to hunt down one of the elusive Vietnamese sandwiches called bánh mì I had been reading so much about, and this day was my last chance to do it. To be honest, I didn't even know anything about bánh mìs apart from the fact that everyone adores them, but as luck would have it, in the free Seattle Weekly paper I picked up there was a recommendation for this deli in the International District (Seattle's Asian epicenter) which makes "the best bánh mì for beginners." Since that obviously applied to me, it seemed like a pretty foolish recommendation to pass up. But considering that I possess only one stomach, I had to choose, and after much deliberation, weighing of the variables and rationalizing (I'm a Libra, don't forget), I settled on Salumi, for the simple reason that it was closer to the ferry I would be taking into downtown Seattle, and I wasn't at all sure I could make it out to the International District before collapsing with hunger.

I arrived at Salumi at five minutes to twelve - plenty early enough to beat the business-lunch crowd, or so I thought - and found a line already extending halfway down the block. Shrugging my shoulders, I joined the line - just ahead of a large family from Baltimore, whose constant bickering kept me entertained for the next 25 minutes as we slowly snaked our way along the sidewalk and into the tiny, closet-like restaurant. The upside was that I had plenty of time to figure out what I wanted (Libra, remember?), as I shamelessly peered into the hands of everyone who had to squeeze back past me on their way out. The thick, rustic salami sandwiches looked good, but when somebody passed me with a baguette dripping glistening juices and emitting the most unbelievable aroma of rosemary and garlic, I knew what I was having. When I finally made it to the counter, I ordered a porchetta sandwich, and left Salumi cradling a massive slab of crusty bread piled to bursting with moist pork shreds, onions and peppers, which I unwrapped with all the elegance of a starving hyena and began to devour, right there, standing on the sidewalk. It was delicious, full of deep, comforting flavors, and as I chewed I congratulated myself on my choice, secretly relieved that I wouldn't have to brave the bánh mì experience quite yet, particularly as that line "for beginners" kept repeating in my head like a warning. What could possibly be so hard about ordering a sandwich that different levels of expertise were required?

I was about halfway through the mammoth porchetta sandwich, my hands and chin covered in slippery pork juice, when I realized I was no longer standing in front of Salumi. I had been so focused on my sandwich I hadn't realized that I had started walking east - not the direction I had intended to go - and was now deep inside the International District, surrounded by businesses advertising their services in  Chinese first and English second. "I'll just take a look around," I told myself, continuing to chew on my sandwich as I perused the offerings of Asian produce markets and admired the plastic facsimiles of dishes in the windows of hole-in-the-wall restaurants. After what seemed like an eternity of chewing, I finally finished my messy, belly-stretching sandwich, cleaned myself up the best I could with the two measly napkins provided, and took my bearings. I was at a busy intersection a few blocks east of the freeway overpass, and as I examined shop fronts I realized the Chinese characters had been replaced with the slightly more familiar Latin alphabet, albeit with lots of strange accents, circumflexes and tildes. I had somehow stumbled into Little Saigon, I realized, and stranger still, beckoning from just across the street from where I stood was the Seattle Deli. Could this be fate at work?

Not one to ignore fate (no matter how stuffed), I crossed the street and peered in the window. All I could see was people pressed up against it on the other side. "I'll just step in and take a quick look," I told myself, "and if those sandwiches look good maybe I'll buy one to take home." I gingerly opened the door and stepped inside, into the space described as "spacious, bright and well-organized" by that Seattle Weekly article, and found instead a seething mass of people, both Asian and non, packed six deep around a small deli counter. There was no apparent order to the chaos and no line to join, so I hung back near the door, trying to make sense of the large and confusing menu board - and quickly coming to the conclusion that maybe I wasn't ready to be initiated into the mysterious rituals of bánh mì after all - when a new crowd of people entered through the door behind me and started propelling me forward. One lady, perhaps catching the glint of terror in my eye, tapped me on the shoulder and said "just muscle your way up to the counter". Nodding, I inched forward, looking anxiously at the faces of the people around me to see if I was breaking bánh mì etiquette. Nobody paid me any attention, though, and before I knew it I was at the counter, opposite a small, squat Vietnamese woman taking orders. She eyed me up and down and barked "what you want?" My palms started sweating. "A bánh mì, please," I said in a near-whisper. "Pork, chicken or meatball?" she shot back. "Um, pork," I said, hoping I'd made the right choice. "Hau-ma-nee?" I didn't understand her, and the thought crossed my mind that this was some secret phrase that only true bánh mì aficionados knew, and by not I was exposing myself as a neophyte just asking for ridicule. "Excuse me?" I said timidly. "HOW MANY?" she replied, nearly shouting in my ear. "Oh, just one." She stopped in her tracks and looked at me with a mixture of astonishment and exasperation. "Just ONE?" she repeated incredulously. I nodded, and sighing and muttering to herself, she disappeared into the back, probably cursing the Seattle Weekly for coaxing bánh mì imbeciles like me into her shop.

At this point, as if things weren't confusing enough already, they got worse. I was still standing at the counter, my $2.25 clutched in my hand, when she re-emerged carrying an armful of wrapped sandwiches. "Two chicken and meatball!" she called out, waving them in the air, and suddenly hands shot out from behind me to grab them and give money. "Three pork!" she said, and I timidly reached for one, only to have her cluck in disapproval as she handed them all to someone reaching in over my head. I stood there awkwardly for another moment before it dawned on me that the crowd of people behind me were not waiting to order or waiting for large orders to be assembled, but simply waiting for sandwiches like me, and shamefacedly slipping my money back in my wallet, I slunk to the back of the crowd and waited. And waited. After a small eternity I heard "one pork!" and looked up to find the counter woman glaring straight at me. I grabbed my sandwich, plonked the cash into her hand, and made a beeline for the door with my hard-won bounty. If this was bánh mì for beginners, I decided, I didn't want to ever find out what bánh mì for experts was like.

Back on the street, I unwrapped my sandwich to see what the payoff for this traumatic experience might be. I found a small, crusty baguette, light and fluffy and quite unassuming. But then I pried it open and gasped. Inside was a dazzling array of colors: a vivid clump of finely-shredded carrots was nestled next to a few translucent slices of cucumber, and a long strip of burnished-mahogany pork lay cradling a scattering of chopped chilies and a fringe of jade-green cilantro. And then I took a bite, just to satisfy my curiosity. The flavors catapulted all over my mouth: spicy, salty, sweet and sour, with an incredible interplay of textures and temperatures, crisp and soft and cool and hot... That bite was so good, I had to take another bite, and before I knew what I had done, I had devoured the entire sandwich. And oh, how I wanted another. It certainly didn't matter that I probably would have needed stomach-rupture surgery if I had; all I could think about were those flavors. In fact, the only thing that saved me from a trip to the emergency room was that I simply couldn't bring myself to face that woman again - she would probably have laughed in my face had I tried to order another sandwich. So I did the only thing I could, given the circumstances. I went back home and figured out how to make my own.

I'm not much into morals, but if this story had one, it would probably be some wise saying about never squandering opportunities, particularly when it comes to lunch. Then again, maybe it should be this: should you ever find yourself in a bánh mì deli, whether in Seattle, Saigon or Southampton, for heaven's sake order more than one. Not doing so is the surest sign of a bánh mì beginner.

Bánh Mì Thit Nuong (Vietnamese Barbecued-Pork Sandwich)

Yield: 8 sandwiches (count on at least 2 per person)
Notes (edited 08/2010): This sandwich has gone through a few different incarnations as I've worked to get it as close as possible to my Seattle Deli ideal, as well as incorporate some banh mi wisdom from our recent trip to Saigon. At the beginning I made the pork into a kind of Chinese char siew, but eventually decided I was barking up the wrong tree. Now I do a much simpler roast pork marinated in fish sauce, honey, garlic and pepper. It's very quick to make, and tastes much more authentic (not to mention crazy delicious; watch out you don't eat too much straight from the pan!). I've also started sprinkling a little Maggi sauce which we saw them doing in Vietnam; it adds a base note of umami which harmonizes beautifully with the other flavors. As far as the bread goes, don't go for anything that can be described with the words 'chewy', 'dense' or 'sturdy' - so basically, avoid the artisan bakeries. For this sandwich light baguette-type rolls are the way to go, preferably ones that have a thin crust that shatters when you bite in and a flufy crumb that collapses to almost nothing between your teeth.

For pork:
1 (1-pound/450g) piece boneless pork loin
2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon finely-minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper

For sandwiches:
2 cups (500ml) warm water
1/2 cup
(60ml) rice or white vinegar
3-4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt, or enough to make a moderately salty brine

1/2 lb (250g) peeled and shredded carrots
1/2 lb
(250g) peeled and shredded daikon radish (traditional, though not too sorely missed if you don't have it)
8 small, crusty baguettes (petit pains), preferably from a Vietnamese bakery

1 hothouse cucumber, halved and cut lengthwise into eighths
thinly-sliced fresh chilies, to taste
fresh cilantro sprigs
mayonnaise

a squirt of Maggi or fish sauce (optional)

To prepare the pork, remove and discard any sinew and trim off large pieces of fat on the exterior. Cut the pork across the grain into at least eight 1/4-inch- (1/2-cm-) thick slices (if you're having trouble with this, it helps to partially freeze the meat first). Transfer pork to a large sealable plastic bag. Stir together remaining ingredients in a small bowl until well combined. Add to pork and turn pork to coat, then squeeze bag to eliminate as much air as possible and seal. Marinate pork, refrigerated, for at least 2 hours and preferably overnight.

Meanwhile, make the pickles: mix together the warm water, vinegar, sugar and salt. Stir until everything dissolves and add the carrots and daikon (if using). Let stand for at least 1 hour. Drain well before using; keep what you don't use in the brine and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Preheat the oven to 425°F/220C. Remove the pork from its marinade and position pork strips 1 inch apart on a foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with any remaining marinade. Roast on the center rack for about 10 minutes. Brush meat with any juices that have pooled on the baking sheet and turn each piece over. Roast pork for another 10-15 minutes, basting once or twice more, until the pork is browned and glistening. Cool slightly, then cut into pieces that will fit inside the baguettes (if necessary).

Cut the baguettes open on one side and rewarm in the oven to revive their crispiness (the ambient heat left in the oven is usually enough to do this). To assemble the sandwiches, slather one side of the interior with mayonnaise and sprinkle the other with a few drops of Maggi or fish sauce. Next, nestle in a few slices of chili, one or two small pieces of meat, a cucumber wedge, a sprig or two of cilantro and a tangle of carrot-daikon pickle. Be somewhat spartan in the filling department; this shouldn't be a Dagwood-type sub, but rather a crusty roll with a few flavorful morsels inside. One of the beauties of this sandwich is that each bite is different than the last.

Eat soon, while the pork is still warm and the cucumber still cold.

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Reader Comments (45)

I've tried a veggie version in Hawaii and love it, will have to keep an eye out for this version the next time I go home. Thanks for sharing!
September 26, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKat
Ah, I ate these all the time when I worked around the corner from a Vietnamese restaurant... they're very good! Perhaps I'll just have to try your recipe some time. Thank you!
September 26, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterColin
Just in the nick of time. I off to Seattle shortly for book tour and was searching for some new places to try. I didn't get to Salumi when I was there last December, so it was already on my list. Now I look forward to Banh Mi as well. Good thing I have several days in the city, so I don't have to force feed myself. Congrats on plowing through both sandwiches! and thanks for a recipe as well.
September 26, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMrs B
Wow. That Bahn Mi looks amazing -- far superior to versions I've had here in NYC. And having had the great good fortune to have eaten a porchetta sandwich from Salumi last June, I salute your capacity. It looks and sounds as if it was all worth the tummy-ache.
September 26, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJulie
What a great post today....this looks delicious and a different version at that! Thanks for sharing !
September 26, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterjann
I know this may be elementary, but since I'm a beginnger too, I buy rather good char sui bbq sauce in Asian markets. Just marinated chicken or pork in it, and voila!...char sui without the humiliation.

You can bury the empty jar in the bottom of your recycling, just in case you're a Libra and have a moral conflict about using pre-jarred sauce.

(Although didn't you say you're not into morals? Well, you must have some if you were uncomfortable with the idea of elbowing aside little old Vietnamese ladies for a sandwich.)
September 26, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDavid
That looks like a serious sandwich-- I feel the urge to run straight to chinatown and get the necessary ingredients. Or I'll just hop on a plane and make haste to your house for some leftovers. If there are any. I admire your sandwich eating capabilities while in Seattle--it is hard when you go away and have only a short amount of time to explore the food-- a belly can only take so much. You did good!
September 26, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMichele
wow. That´s some restraint. When I´m travelling, I go crazy with frustration at not being able to try everything. Ideally, we´d be like camels, but o well. I´ve had a recipe for chinese barbecued pork flagged for months now, you´ve made me want to make it now, today, this minute.
September 26, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterlobstersquad
You're a libra too? This is getting weird...

The sandwich looks delicious, but I must admit, I've never seen anything like it in Vietnam. The kind that are found in Vietnam (and Laos) contain homemade liver pate and a couple kinds of pork sausage, and are topped with coriander, spring onions, cucumber, pickled veggies, mayo, butter and hot sauce. Here's a pic of one at a Vietnamese place in Laos: http://realthai.blogspot.com/2005/12/worlds-greatest-sandwich.html.They also grill the bread briefly over coals to make it crispy on the outside. Oh, and they cost the equivalent of about 25 cents! Really one of the most delicious foods in the world.

By the way, I think the newspaper in the pic is actually Japanese, not Chinese!

Austin
September 26, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAustin
I discovered Salumi about 3-4 years ago, a good friend who knows Armandino recommended the place. Did you know he also does private dinners that are by invitaiton only and booked up to a year in advance. I was lucky enough to go to a 14 course dinner there. When I took the hubby there he was happy with his coppa and porchetta sandwich.

The Vietnamese place used to be called Bu Dien I think and I used to go there too. Why can't I find one of those in Torino. I would die for one right now. Esp. the ones with Veitnamese salami and chilis.
September 26, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterGia
What a great story! And it's comforting to know you are on my lunch schedule now! Hehehehe. Glutton? Who me?

I am fortunate enough to live in the largest Vietnamese community outside of Vietnam, right here in So Cal. I have a weak spot in my heart for these sandwiches and now I think I might actually give it a try in the kitchen. Thanks,M!
September 26, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermatt
Oh sure, I needed another sandwich to covet.
September 26, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterkevin
hi melissa, a hilarious post as only you can write, accompanied by ravishing photography, as always. not to mention, a woman after my heart/stomach...i've long longed to try my hand at the alford/duguid "saigon subs" but never quite worked up the nerve to - especially because w, having spent an inordinate amount of time trawling O.C. for definitive banh mi specimens, is as you can well imagine quite fussy about what is and is not good bahn mi ;p
September 26, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJ
I loved your story, particularly since I had my first banh mi last week, and as I drove away from the little market and took my first bite, all I could think was "Omigod! Why didn't I buy two!" Anyway, I have been researching the heck out of banh mi for a long time now, way before I had my first taste, because I just knew it was or me. I have been trying to find a recipe for the bread, as there are no Vietnamese bakeries in the area. but the only one out there is from Corrine Trang's book, and from what I have read online, the proportions of rice to wheat flour may be off. Does anyone know of anyone who has perfected making these baguettes with ingredients found in the states? I'm getting desperate, as I am convinced that a regular French baguette would ruin the whole experience.
September 26, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermonstagrrrl
yumyumyum, i've had banh mi once and been dreaming of it since. awesome post, i remember the sandwich was so BIG too and the sweet pork. great job loks wonderful!
September 26, 2006 | Unregistered Commenteraria
Thank you for sharing the recipe. I only tried this recently and wow- what a perfect sandwich. I plan on making it very very soon!!
September 27, 2006 | Unregistered Commentertokyoastrogirl
Oh yum. The best banh mi I have ever had was from a small stall in front of the central market in Hoi An, They used both pork pate and braised belly pork. Then they covered that with the freshest veggies and a lovely spicy sauce. I can't tell you just how amazing those were. In the few days we were there, I think I ate at least 1 or 2 a day. They were that good.
September 27, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterChubby Hubby
Wonderful storytelling, and the luscious sandwich looks absolutely worth the wait. We've had banh mi in Vietnam, where we could never figure out how to order any filling except the pork sausage-y filling, which wasn't too appealing to us. One thing that was a surprise was how wonderful the French bread in Vietnam could be -- a tradition left behind when the French pulled out.
September 27, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLydia
I am so happy to find out about the Seattle Deli. Last time I was in Seattle I almost cried when I found out that Salumi would be closed the two days we were going to be there. It'll be nice to have another option. Until then, I will try them again at home with your recipe. I have tried making the rice flour baguettes before without much success so if anyone has tips, please share.
September 27, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterlee
I LOVE Bahn Mi! But, I haven't tried Seattle Deli yet. The little place in the Uwajimaya (the ID supermarket) food court is also quite good, although just about as hectic. I'll have to give Seattle Deli a try.

As for Salumi, I know I'll sound like a heritic, but I'm fairly mild on the cafe. There meats are delicious, but I had a mediocore experience with the bread... and blah bread just ruins a sandwhich for me. Just a note to those going - make sure that you know what bread your sandwhich is on, or you may be very disappointed.
September 27, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterL
Darn! I was in Seattle last week and didn't know to try those famed sandwich shops. Oh well, plenty of banh mi shops in Vancouver, however. I love the ones made with Vietnamese cold cuts and pate. My boyfriend loves the bbq pork version. It's those pickles that make it so juicy and delish! Can't wait to try your recipe... tonight! Your story made me laugh!
September 27, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMary
Oh my god.. Bahn Mi was my favourite food when i was in vietnam, and i didnt even figure out what it was called until i got back home. Everyone just called it a baguette. My favourite ones were found in Saigon. for 50 cents. i think the secret is the cream cheese, not mayo.. they use the laughing cow brand cream cheese, homemade pate, ham meat, pickled carrot and radish, sliced chillis, cucumber, cilantro.. I missed it so much when i came home, i tried to replicate it, a little hard since i really didnt want to make pate. but i found plain pork sausages and boiled and sliced them. the pickles are the best part though.. carrot and radish julienned, pickled with rice wine vinegar and sugar. the version you got is the more fancy one i expect. but the simple one is so great. sigh.. i want roadside bahn mi from the lady in the conical hat!
September 27, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDenise
Hi!you described so well your tour in Seattle that I imagined to be there!!nice dishes!
September 28, 2006 | Unregistered Commentersaffron
I tried this recipe last night, with a few minor modifications due to availability of ingredients, and it was fantastic!
September 28, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret
I tried my hand at making some banh mi at home when the vietnamese place that sold them in the street in out Strip District closed up. I did mine with some pate, from a magazine recipe. While they were good, they just did not measure up to the street food, and I haven't tried making them again. I kind of felt as if they lost some of their casual charm when I fussed over them...but when I didn't fuss, they didn't taste right to me.
Whenever I get a chance, I buy them from a street vendor, though. I love them and rank them among the world's best sandwiches. Right up there with BLTs and cuban sandwiches and Reubans.Yours are considerably prettier than mine were.They look delicious.
September 29, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterlindy
I loved this post! I felt like I could see you in that crowded little store. I'm impressed that you recreated banh mi at home so faithfully - that sandwich is absolutely gorgeous!
September 29, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLuisa
Now we know what's for dinner on Sunday... provided I can find all of the ingredients.

Just, yum.
September 30, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJuti
Ooo.. this looks really good.. it's like the Asian version of a Philly Cheese Sandwich :)
September 30, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSerene
Being Vietnamese and living in the Bay Area, I am fortunate enough to get one of those banh mi whenever I want to. My favorite is the bbq chicken with creamy butter sauce. If you get a chance to visit California, be sure to put it on your "to try" list. I promise you will not be disappointed.
September 30, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterClaire
Great recipe Melissa! I tried it yesterday and it worked really well. Couldn't find any daikon though. Have you seen it on sale anywhere in Edinburgh?
October 1, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDharshi
Oh, oh, oh do I have another lunch venture for you, and in Seattle no less! I had to peruse your post just to see if indeed you had been to The Bagette Box, and their infamous Drunken Chicken Bagette Sandwich. Holy smokes, I actually arrange errands and create cross-town paths around the lunch hour just so I have an excuse to be in the vacinity of this divine sandwich. I usually hide in my car to devour in large bites, leaving my manners teatering on the curb. Put it on your lunch list for your next Seattle venture!
October 3, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJanelle
perhaps the best meat sandwich ever. Without even trying it, I'm drooling just looking at the ingredients! rrrrr...
October 4, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermalka lev adom
Bánh Mì Thit Nuong is always awesome!
October 4, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterbloorozez
I have enjoyed these sandwiches here in Pittsburgh, probably from the same source that Lindy mentions, but I didn't know that they had closed (sob!). I also didn't know the proper name of the sandwich - I think the lady who sold them called them "Vietnamese hoagies", which is pretty descriptive. I agree, addictively delicious; the saltiness, the sweetness, the spiciness, the roastiness, yum!
October 6, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca
Yay, banh mi! I miss these so much here in Beijing. I practically grew up on the pho and combination ham (i hear you: pate, mayo, pickles, cilantro and mystery cold cuts!) banh mi from the Little Paris on Clement St., SF and was horrified when their lease wasn't renewed a couple of years ago (they had the best Imperial Rolls ever). The banh mis out in the Tenderloin are fantastic, though, and I used to drag my mother out to the "shady neighborhood" for my sandwich -- it wasn't hard after I split a BBQ beef banh mi with her!
October 6, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAshley
Mrs. B - Glad to come to the rescue. I hope you'll give us the full report on your lunchtime escapades when you get back!

Julie - That porchetta sandwich is a monster, isn't it? Normally that would please me to no end, but it certainly doesn't make multiple lunches very easy...

David - Well, see, there you go - in my beginner's ignorance I didn't even know there was jarred char siu sauce. And although the Libra element wouldn't stop me from buying anything in a jar, it would potentially prevent me from purchasing one in case they sold more than one brand, as I simply wouldn't be able to decide which one looked best...

Austin - You'd think being a linguist and all I would be able to tell the difference... sigh. Anyway, thanks for your take on the authenticity - I guess I'll just have to get myself to Vietnam to find out what they actuall do over there (and while I'm at it, pick up a Vietnamese newspaper or two to add to my prop collection).

Gia - Wow, can you fell the envy seeping through the screen? I mean, I didn't try anything but the porchetta, but if that is anything to go by I imagine you had one heck of a meal!

L - Do check out the Seattle Deli. I'm curious to know how it compares to other places in the ID. And as for the bread at Salumi, the day I was there they were using two types, a softer round one for salami sandwiches (which I didn't try) and a coarse baguette for the porchetta and meatball which was very good, albeit quite a jaw workout!

Margaret and Dharshi - Fantastic, so glad you liked them!

Claire - Do you have any specific locations you could recommend? I'll keep them safely tucked away until next time I make it to the Bay Area.

Janelle - Sounds like my kind of sandwich. It is now on the 'next trip to Seattle' list!
October 6, 2006 | Registered Commentermelissa
Melissa, I can't believe that I've taken so long to see and comment on this post, but hot damn, lady, that is some beautiful bahn mi. I loved hearing this story over our dinner at Boat Street, and it's even better in writing. Cheers to you and your gorgeous char siu...
October 8, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMolly
Hey there! I'm late joining the bahn mi party, but I love the commentary and I was wondering is it a huge "NO-NO" to order a sandwich without cilantro? Or do you request parsley or basil instead?
Thanks, Laurel R.
October 11, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterlaurelrogers
actually i've never tried bahn mi before, but now knowing in seattle there's seattle deli to buy this, next time i'm there i'll be ready to try it. thanks for the info!
October 12, 2006 | Unregistered Commentereliza
Molly - I don't know if you've been to the Seattle Deli yet, but I'd love your take on how it compares to other places in the ID. I suspect there is a veritable banh mi blowout in our not-too-far-distant future, and the more prepared we are, the better!

Laurel - While I can't say I know enough yet about banh mi etiquette to give you a definitive answer on cilantro inclusion, if my experience is anything to go by it should be very easy to remove after the fact (on my sandwich, for example, it was just one long sprig). As for requesting basil or some other herb...it certainly can't hurt to ask :)

Eliza - If you're a fan of Vietnamese food, do plan to spend some time in this part of Seattle next time you go. They don't call it Little Saigon for nothing!
October 16, 2006 | Registered Commentermelissa
I have been eating these for years. My Chinese/Burmese sister in law introduced them to mw and calls them "little asian sandwiches". Now I know they have a name. Ahhhhhh...so very delicious.
November 13, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterbitstobite
I had a truly exceptional banh mi thit nuong in Ho Chi Minh City recently. I don't know if a sandwich can properly be described as transcendent but this one certainly was like no other banh mi I have ever tasted.
It comes from a single proprietress out of tiny stall that appears on the sidewalk a little after 5pm at 37 Nguyen Trai street, district 1, saigon. She quickly sets her mis en place, builds a fire and commences barbequeing what look like homemade pork patties. Almost immediately a line forms and pretty much stays there until she finishes her bushel of baguettes and calls it a night. She puts in a lot of cilantro, cucumber, green onions and other cold cuts. She puts a dab of hot sauce and a squirt of some special barbeque sauce that it looks like she makes herself. The finished sandwich is wrapped in a used, printed form that probably comes from the office that she works in during the day, secured with a thin rubberband.
Although it sounds innocent enough, her banh mi is a masterpiece of flavor and textural balance; perfect ratios of bread:filling, warm:cold, hot:sweet, crunchy:chewy, wet:dry. A few days later, after eating everything else this amazing city has to offer, I still couldn't get her banh mi out of my mind. On my way to the airport I stopped by for one last banh mi although I wasn't even hungry.
I am not surprised to find that this tiny establishment has been cited as serving the best banh mi in all of Saigon by the noodlepie foodblog <http://www.noodlepie.com/2006/02/is_this_the_bes.html>
November 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNeal Oshima
I have only recently discovered the Banh Mi, and though I don't normally do the old blog thing, I felt I had to mention a wonderful vietnamese bakery in Sydney Australia. It's called 'The Little Devil' and is only a tiny place on Broadway (near the corner of City Road). It has odd little signs hanging from the ceiling with pictures of baby-like red devils (obviously) and saying things like 'I love The Little Devil!'. They have the most delicious Banh Mi's - just called pork roll, chicken roll and meatball roll. About $3.50 each I think. Superb. If any of you guys are ever in Sydney you should check out The Little Devil!
November 17, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMaree

i live in houston and we've got a pretty prominant part of town heavily infused with vietnamese culture (from the street signs to the dozens of pho and banh mi restaurants that dot two major streets called bellaire and westheimer). there's one place, hidden behind a few more prominent buildings, called "givral" where the have, hands down, the best pork banh mi i've had anywhere. it's sweet, salty, tender, and the carrots, jalapenos, and cilantro are so bright, crisp, and consistently fresh that this place is a staple for those who went to school in the area. what this comment is really about though is the spread that they used, which didn't seem to be mayonaisse. the best rendition we could come up with is mixing homemade mayo with bacon fat, some sugar, salt, white pepper, and butter. it sounds extremely unhealthy, but what it lacks in proper nutritional value is makes up for a thousand times in taste. you might want to try it out and see if it adds any dimension of flavor to what looks like an already mouth-watering version of the sandwich. keep up the good work!

March 6, 2007 | Unregistered Commentersara

Hi Melissa, I know this is a much older post - but I found it on your Recipe Index. Bánh mì is my favorite sandwich and I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. Despite my ADD, your writing keeps me enthralled to the very end.

I live in an area where no Viet delis or bakeries exist and I've found that French or western-style baguettes are not suitable for bánh mì - they're too dense and hearty. Mexican bolillo rolls, though, are the closest thing to Viet bread that I've found.

When I went back to Viet Nam recently, I actually got to see how they make the Vietnamese baguette. It was incredible. Can you imagine - they used eggs to make the dough! Hopefully, I'll get around to posting the recipe on my blog.

October 24, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterholybasil

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