Monday, August 03, 2009

Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Banh mi

Hurray! Camera fixed, thanks to clever husband.

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can buy a formidable banh mi for $3, which is cheaper than making one at home. BUT. It was still interesting and instructive to assemble one for myself.

I went to Clement Street in S.F. for the ingredients, using Andrea Nguyen's recipe as my guide, starting with puffy Vietnamese-style French bread.

It's not the greatest bread -- the interior is like cotton -- but supposedly that's the idea.

I also bought a pound of yummy barbecued pork

and some cha lua sausage.
Do you see the little "Keep Refrigerated" warning? Well, it wasn't. It was on a shelf near the cash register. I pondered this for a while, then put the sausage in my cart anyway. 

And I bought a daikon radish that looks like something out of Dune
and cilantro, serrano peppers, cucumber.

At home, I cut up the daikon and put it into brine with some carrots.

Then I sat down to read, and fell dead asleep for six hours. Jet lag. When I woke up: dinner time. 

To make the sandwiches, I spread lots of mayonnaise on the bread, sprinkled with soy sauce, heaped with the pickles, cilantro, hot peppers, and sliced cucumber. Meat presented a dilemma. I sliced the cha lua, which was pink and finely textured, like bologna and smelled fine, despite improper storage at the Richmond New May Wah market. I thought: does my schedule over the next few days allow for food poisoning? And yes! It does. But I really hate to throw up, it's almost a phobia. No, it IS a phobia. I gave the $2.99 log of cha lua to the chickens, who scarfed it down. They are all alive and pecking today, so I guess it was okay.

I any case, I used only barbecued pork in the sandwiches, and they were fantastic. The sine qua non of the Vietnamese sandwich is not the meat. You could use almost anything -- leftover roast chicken, steak, duck, pork belly, even lamb, probably fish. It's the crunchy, spicy pickled vegetables and fresh herbs that make a banh mi a banh mi.


  1. I love these! We get them at Lee's Sandwiches, the Vietnamese chain store deli, every Saturday because it is in the same parking lot as the Farmers' Market. If you have them up there, try also the green waffles (aka pandan waffles).

  2. Forgot to note that there's no mayo in the one's we get.

  3. I have had on my list for ages to try pandan waffles at Pho Nguyen in Milpitas. Have you been there?
    I will add Lee's sandwiches to the list.

  4. I haven't, but then I live in Southern California. We have a large Vietnamese population living in Westminster so the good food tends to spill out into other parts of Orange County.

    I have a cookbook that has a recipe for pandan waffles (as well as other Asian desserts), but I haven't tried it. Actually, I haven't tried any of the recipes because they look intimidating!! Who would taste it and tell me I did it right (or wrong)? Maybe I should refer it you to try. :)

  5. wonderful news that the camera is fixed.
    the sandwiches sound so delicious. if i was more ambitious i would dash out to try to find the ingredients or if i lived closer i would come right over.

  6. So I pulled out that recipe book. It's actually pandanus pancakes with pandanus coconut filing. You start with a pandanus leaf and then you juice it. You're also supposed to make a brush out of a pandanus leaf and use that to brush the oil onto the pan. (There are instructions on how to make the brush.) Whew, now I remember why I never tried this! Maybe I should head over to Ranch 99 to see if they sell such leaves.

  7. that sounds crazy! but kind of good. how do you juice a pandanus leaf?