I love Banh Mi, or Vietnamese Sandwich. Not exactly sure when I first ate it, but I’m pretty positive it was along the lines of my mom bringing one from working in New York City back home to New Jersey. It was pretty much love at first bite for me.
As a kid, you grow up eating sandwiches because it’s a convenient meal that you can make by yourself without any help (Come on, cereal can get pretty boring but at least sandwiches are versatile!). In school cafeterias, they’re the options you can rely on when you’re not up to whatever is being served.
Here are a few words from my friend Quyen Hoang, who is a Dartmouth student from Vietnam, whom I asked to write about her thoughts on this dish:
Hi, thanks Victoria for letting me write some brief few lines about my dearly beloved Vietnamese cuisine. Bánh mì is a popular street food in Vietnam, not only because it tastes really, really great but also because it is cheap, quick to order, and handy on the go. The baguette, a French cuisine influence, should be slightly crunchy on the outside, paper thin crust, and soft on the inside. Doughy bánh mì is not the norm, at least in Vietnam, and to me this light, airy medium goes along just perfectly with the fresh fillings. The bread is lightly grilled and slit along the side. Butter and/or pork paté is spread on the soft crumb, then meatball, Vietnamese sausage, fried egg, or meat floss are paired with fresh, julienned cucumber, pickled carrot, coriander, and other herbs. The sauce, which differs from shop to shop, offers a deep, meaty umami flavor and often includes soy sauce or fish sauce. The soft crumb of the bread offers plenty of pockets for the sauce and the paté spread to nestle in, providing a delicious contrast between the satisfying crunchy crust, the tangy herbs and the oh-so-delicious soft and rich fillings inside.
When I moved to New York City, I continued to eat these sandwiches. When participating in the Chinatown Youth Initiative‘s Summer Leadership Institute the summer of 2011, I enjoyed it when we were given Vietnamese Sandwiches for lunch. I gobbled them up.
When I learned of Serious Eats, I discovered they had an article on Banh Mi, specifically from Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich in Chinatown. Along with friends from Dartmouth College, and after a soup dumplings meal, I ordered a Vietnamese Sandwich because I couldn’t resist, even with a full stomach. I ordered the Pate Supreme, as suggested by Serious Eats as their best sandwich. This is what a “real traditional cold-cut banh mi” should be. And right they were, because a Dartmouth friend from Vietnam commented on my Instagram of the photo: “Pork liver pate is the thing gurl. Any bánh mì in Vietnam has to have one.” Another friend who was familiar with Chinatown hoped that I didn’t order a knock-off sandwich that so many stores sell but after saying I ordered it from Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich, he said thats a “real one.” So much approval!
I don’t quite remember how this sandwich tasted because it was awhile back that I ate it and took a bit for my friend to reply because she was still taking classes in the summer. I probably don’t remember because my stomach was full and I ate the sandwich, which probably did not create quite an enjoyable experience. I like Vietnamese Sandwiches because of the pickled vegetables which add a sweet, tangy taste, despite mine hating pickles in burgers when I was younger. (P.S. I now love pickles.) At Dartmouth, I couldn’t get my Vietnamese Sandwich fix when at home, I could easily buy one in Flushing, NY. But there were two days that Vietnamese Sandwiches were served, and on those two days, I ate 2 sandwiches each to satisfy my cravings. They weren’t superb but they weren’t horrible. I actually liked them. Seems like Dartmouth’s Class of 1953 Commons, affectionately known as FoCo for Food Court, can cook pretty good dishes. Hopefully, I can eat some more before heading to China and then back to Dartmouth. Maybe I can get people to mail the sandwiches to me? Or I can learn how to make them… That could be another post!