Monday, March 26, 2007

Working Eater Series: Banh Mi Me!

My favorite type of sandwich is the "banh mi," a Vietnamese street sandwich. The banh mi sandwich exemplifies the profound influence the French colonial empire has had on Vietnamese cuisine--it is a sandwich (a classic Western food item) that incorporates Asian elements (cilantro, pickled daikon, and green chili peppers).

To make banh mi sandwiches, start with high-quality crusty French baguette. The baguette must be cut open and toasted until warm and lightly browned at the cut edges.

Lightly smear a thin coat of mayonnaise (preferably not Miracle Whip or other salad dressings with a "tangy zip") on the exposed side of the bottom section of the cut bread.

Add lunch meat onto the sandwich, and when placing the meat into the sandwich, artfully "curl" the cold cuts into folded halves. Vietnamese families traditionally like to use the ham or turkey breast cold cuts. I would advise you never to use bologna or salami. You can also add Vietnamese-style barbequed pork, barbequed dark chicken meat, shredded chicken breast, slices of Vietnamese pork meatballs, fried egg, and crackly roasted pork skin. The sky is the limit as to the filling for a banh mi. Mario Batali added mango and lobster and I read a recipe that added seared tuna. I like to add liverwurst pâté in addition to the meat filling. Just as long as you line the exposed half of the bread with the meat until the bread is sufficiently covered, the sandwich should taste delicious.

Generously heap the sandwich with handfuls of a slaw mixture made of pickled and shredded carrots and daikon. This pickled slaw is what gives a banh mi sandwich its "kick" and unique flavor. To make this banh mi slaw, first shred carrots and daikon on the large holes of a box grater. I prefer using more carrots than daikon in the slaw. Then, cover the freshly shredded root vegetables with a dressing made of equal parts rice wine vinegar and white sugar. You can use distilled white vinegar too, but keep in mind that white vinegar is more tart and mouth-puckeringly sour, so you might want to modify the sugar-vinegar content if you use it. The slaw should taste more sweet than sour. You should marinate the slaw for at least two hours before using it. Drain the slaw well before you place it on the sandwich, and don't worry if the daikon turns orange from the carrots. Use your hands to squeeze out the excess moisture, wringing out the pickling juice from the slaw as best you can.

Add a scattering of cut jalapeno rings (with seeds included) and several full sprigs cilantro. You may also add slices or slivers of cool cucumber here. Finally, cover the sandwich with the remaining half of the cut loaf.

See how easy that was! Now go out and make yourself some delicious Vietnamese street sandwiches!


  1. I love these sandwiches! There were lots of pho joints near campus and I use to always buy one for a quick lunch. The flavors are so refreshing and at $1.75, who can argue with a price like that? :)

  2. I am glad that you are starting to cook more...that's wonderful...keep your home-made goodies coming. :)

  3. i LOVE bahn mi! this looks so delicious and has inspired me to make one. i just got a mandolin at the asian market the other day i think i need to shred some daikon for this. yummmmmmmmmm :)

  4. Yum! This looks like a great way to make bahn mi at home, I've been inspired to make one too!

  5. That is a really generous and yummy looking sandwich...I'd love to try to mango/lobster flavor combination...

  6. Looks delicious! My husband is a great one for layering up sandwiches and I think this would be right up his street! Thanks for sharing!

  7. So, the carrots and daikon is what make it bahn mi, thanks for the lesson! :D I have not tried bahn mi before. Other than making my own, is Lee Sandwiches good? Think they do Vnese sandwiches. BTW, thks for visiting my site :)

  8. What's missing from this recipe is the liver pate that the Vietnamese use, which gives the sandwich more background depth and complexity. Also, the Vietnamese bread is softer, with a thinner crust than the average store-bought baguette. Makes it easier to chomp down without risk of crust-shrapnel digging into the roof of your mouth.

  9. Do you have any recommendations for Vietnamese sandwich shops in the city?

  10. I think I remember a brownish-sweetish barbecue sauce of some sort on banh mi's I've eaten. Do you know what I'm talking about?
    Thanks for demystifying this delicious sandwich.

  11. beautiful! street food is just the best...and this looks so good. i'm tempted to make one tonight.

  12. I love the banh mi. It's, without a doubt, my favorite sandwich to eat. That crusty French bread, the cilantro, nothin' beats a banh mi...except two banh mis.

  13. I like using a mandolin for the pickles/slaw. The strips are crunchier and less prone to go all over the place.

  14. Hi PE - That is one lovely sandwich...almost too pretty to eat...almost!!!

  15. I tried Lee's once, was underwhelmed. Saigon Sandwiches, the next block down Larkin on the other side, is slightly better. I like Wrap Delight, a block farther down on Larkin, but they don't have the grilled pork, just roast pork. I like the place across Larkin from Lee's and a little farther up towards Ellis as well. I only wish they had a banh mi joint in downtown SF; the Tendo is a long way to go at lunchtime.

  16. You know, my mom used to make banh mis with meatballs when I was growing up. But with sandwich shops everywhere these days, she now longer does that. Sometimes, convenience replaces good old-fashioned homemade. :(

  17. it's my favorite type of sandwich too! you made it seem so makes me question the sandwiches that i put together every morning. not nearly as great as what you've done here. you are truly the culinary master, PE!

  18. I love these sandwiches too! They're my cheap & tasty lunch since I work so close to Chinatown (granted in Vancouver, Canada). The best shop is Ba Le and they have a nice variety of meats and they also serve various custards and glutenous rice rolls. Yummy! As always, thank you for sharing your culinary delights and stopping by my blog.

  19. wow, i'm so accustomed to stopping by one of those banh mi shacks that it's never occurred to me to make my own. yay, you kept the pate!

  20. Wow, that is the cheapest I've heard of them Amy! And those sandwiches are worth every penny!

    Thank you for your inspiration Chef Rasa Malaysia!

    I love it too Aria! You gotta work that mandolin and get your money's worth outta that kitchen instrument!

    I am glad that you are inspired, I have also been inspired by you lately Charise!

    I am dying to try Mario Batali's mango-lobster banh mi sandwich too Wind Whisperer!

    I can't wait to see Paul's take on the banh mi Freya and Paul!

    Lee's Sandwiches isn't "amazing," but as a chain sandwich shop, you can definitely get generic introduction to the banh mi Tiger Fish which is tasty enough. Since you live in the Bay Area, if you ever come to San Francisco, try out the sandwich shops in Little Saigon (the Tenderloin) and in Oakland!

    You're right WB Guy, I used the American kind of liverwurst, and that doesn't have the "background depth and complexity" as the Vietnamese kind. And I agree that the soft bread is preferable to the hard or chewy kind.

    My favorite is Saigon Sandwiches on Larkin Taste Tester!

    That sauce is the barbeque glaze from the barbequed chicken or pork, and is made with oyster sauce, fish sauce, brown sugar, rice wine, and five spice powder Cookie Crumb!

    Yes, this is the epitome of delicious street food Pink Nest!

    Well, it can be beat with three or four banh mis Elmo Monster! Or sharing a banh mi meal with you is better than eating one million banh mis!

    Great tip Chubby Panda! Now I wanna tip on where to get a cheap, high-quality mandolin! ;)

    You and me think alike Kirk K, "nothing" is to pretty to eat!

    Thank you for all of those recommendations Alex, and I totally second your suggestion of Saigon Sandwiches. It is my favorite in the city. The one down the street isn't as "sweet" tasting, and I think it is a little more expensive, but only by a few dimes. I would also like to find a Vietnamese sandwich shop in the Financial District. I think someone told me about one before, but I am not sure if they went out of business already.

    I know what you mean about convenience Wandering Chopsticks, and usually simplicity and speed prevail. Unfortunately, I bet the sandwich shops aren't as good as your mom's. :( But at least you still have the wonderful childhood memories!

    Jinerous, I've sampled the stuff you've packed for lunch, and I'd have to say that your are Queen of delicious and nutritious lunches!

    I love those pre-packaged custards and spring rolls Archivarian! It seems like you have quite a selection in Vancouver!

    I could never turn my back on pate Noodle Girl!

  21. did u karate kick the jalapeno chilis aside ? :P hehe, oohh, I want some liver pete in it toooooo :))

  22. I love Banh Mi!! I have never made it myself and you have inspired me to do so this weekend. I am a big time Pho fan too, eat it at least once a week, with spring rolls, tons of hot sauce & lime juice squeezed down into the spring roll. Mmmm.
    I just glanced down while typing this & Aria said the same thing.
    Your blog has become one of my favorites!

  23. If you wanted some more misc. information:

    In Vietnamese, we use the word 'banh' to name pretty much everything bread/cake/pastry like. The following adjective is important to tell what exactly the food is. 'Banh mi' is commonly used just for bread, and it's just normal to use the same term for sandwich. If you just say 'banh', it usually means cake.

    Happy eating. :D

  24. I missed Little Saigon


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