When I was pregnant with my daughter I made my cousin and husband drive half an hour away at 11 o’clock pm to get me Bánh Mì. They had a special going on – buy five, get one free. You have no idea. A dozen please!
Vietnamese Bánh Mì are heavenly french-influenced baguette sandwiches spread with a layer of liver pate, homemade mayo, and butter, then filled with savory Vietnamese fillings, cilantro, jalapeño, pickled carrots and daikon radish, cucumber, and sprinkled with soy sauce. They are fatty, salty, sour, sweet, spicy, and herbaceous – an epicurean dream.
The bread itself is key. It’s typically a demi-baguette but the crust is lighter and cracklier as a result of the use of both rice and wheat flour. The center of the bread is much less dense than a traditional baguette. You can find them at Vietnamese bakeries. I’ve even found a similar version at international grocery stores. I’ve substituted with regular baguette before when I’m having a craving and don’t have any Vietnamese baguettes handy. I’ve even used a hot dog bun. Trời đất ơi! I was really jonesin that night for Bánh Mì and wasn’t going to let the little fact that I didn’t have the right bread stop me 🙂
If you ever have the pleasure of visiting a Vietnamese Bánh Mì shop, first, take a look around. Are there a lot of Vietnamese patrons there? Yes? Okay, good. Do they mainly sell Bánh Mì instead of a full menu? Yes? Okay, it’s still lookin’ good. Is chaos ensuing with no visible line and a bunch of non-decorous people pushing their way to the front yelling out their order? Yes again? Congratulations! You’ve found yourself a legitimate Bánh Mì place. Now get those elbows ready to push your way up to the front of the line and don’t expect the person behind the counter to ask you how your day is. Be prepared to rattle out your order “soup nazi” style. It’s survival of the fittest at these places!
If you take a moment to observe the workers behind the counter, you would not believe the speed and precision they have whipping out hundreds of sandwiches an hour. They’re not trying to be rude. They’re just busy!! The one beef I have is that, like a true American (Vietnamese-American to be exact), I like lots of filling. These joints put about a third of how much I’d like, but that’s the time-honored traditional way. So I have to respect that.
Glancing up at the menu (oftentimes accompanied by photos) is a good way to decide what you want. It’s similar to ordering Phở in that you are simply telling them what type of meat you want inside. You can also ask them to omit any of the traditional accompaniments, for example, if you’re not a fan of liver pate or jalapeños. The main fillings you can choose from are:
- grilled chicken (ga nuong) – my favorite!
- pork meat ball (xiu mai)
- shredded pork (bi)
- pork roll (cha lua)
- bar-b-que (thit nuong)
- cold cuts (ham, head cheese)
- sardine (ça moi)
- scrambled egg (trung chien)
- vegetarian (chay)
If you don’t have a Bánh Mì shop in your area, no worries! I am here to initiate you into this cult-like obsession. My version captures the essence of Bánh Mì and is deliciously addicting, but is by no means authentic. I’m aiming to introduce this wonderful example of Vietnamese culinary history to those of you who haven’t had it and want to eliminate any barriers to making it in a typical non-Vietnamese home kitchen. Once you get the taste for it, you can delve into many online tutorials showing you how to make the authentic savory fillings and accompaniments.
First, split your bread in half lengthwise, keeping it attached on one side. Layer one side with real mayonnaise and the other with salted butter (French butter is highly preferable). If you have liver pate, a light spread on one side is amazing.
Put on as much cilantro as you can stand. To me, cilantro is a deal killer. I know a lot of people don’t like it, but it makes the sandwich. As you can see in this photo, I like a lot of cilantro!
Next, put in a nice layer of broiled or grilled chicken. Nothing fancy here. I oftentimes will use meat from a plain rotisserie chicken, or sprinkle some soy sauce and pepper on chicken breasts and broil or grill them off.
Another deal killer for me is some crunchy pickled veggies on top. I personally love, love, love the hot pepper relish that they sell at a sandwich shop in my area called Pot Belly. I buy it by the gallon-ful. It’s perfect because it has carrots and hot peppers. But it also has celery, cauliflower, olives, and red bell pepper. Delish!
If you’d like to make a quick pickled carrot and daikon relish, simply shred some up in your food processor, and let them soak in a mixture made of equal parts white or rice wine vinegar and sugar, and a little bit of salt. A quick one hour soak is all they’ll need, but 2-3 days in a sealed jar in the fridge is ideal. Drain them before use. If you go this route, be sure to add some jalapeño slices on top of your sandwich. If you don’t have fresh jalapeño on hand, any hot pepper will do, or even jarred pickled jalapeños.
I didn’t have any cucumbers on hand, but a couple of slices (lengthwise) will help cool your mouth from the hot peppers.
Lastly, sprinkle on some soy sauce and freshly grated black pepper. Personally, I prefer Maggi Seasoning. And I put a lot of it on 🙂 If you haven’t heard of it before, have a gander at my post on Unctuous Eggs Fried My Mom’s Way to learn more about it.
I bet you anything you’ll be craving another one soon. Hopefully you can find an authentic Bánh Mì shop in your area! But if you’re looking for a quick fix, this recipe will do ya good. Enjoy!
If you’re lucky enough to find an authentic Vietnamese bakery in your area, stock up on the bread! They heat up nicely. Individually wrap them in foil, then in a freezer-safe ziplock bag, and freeze them. Take them out as you need them. Take off the foil and put them in your microwave on the Defrost setting for 15 seconds. Place in a 350 degree F oven for 2-3 minutes to crisp them back up. They will be as good as new and ready for all your yummy fillings!
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