Vietnam: Bánh Mì

Restaurant: Cam Huong
City: Union City, CA

After I woke up, I went to the kitchen to find a Vietnamese sandwich (bánh mì) on the kitchen table waiting for me with a note…thanks, Dad! He got my favorite version, the pork combo sandwich.

banh mi - 1banh mi - 3banh mi - 2

Here’s a breakdown of my sandwich, taken from The Battle of Bánh Mì:

  • Chả or Chả Lụa (pork roll) – Ground up pork is packed tightly into a roll, and wrapped with banana leaves (and or aluminum foil) then steamed or boiled, hence producing the dense “pork roll”. Sliced thin like bologna, these make up one of the most common cold cuts found in bánh mì.
  • Thịt Nguội (cured pork cold cuts) – Thịt Nguội (translated as “Cooled Meats”), is the second most common cold cut filling. Usually made of cured pork & layered with strips of fat. Some makers will call it Ba Chị, which is more like pork belly.
  • Dặc Biệt (Special or Combination) – Every menu has a Combination or House Special, which is a combination of at least one of the following: the pork roll, headcheese and/or cold cuts. Some shops offer ham as an offering to the cold cuts, as well as adding their special house touch of other meats.
  • Paté – Ranging from chicken to duck liver ingredients, pates can normally be a part of every sandwich as a spread, but some menu’s offer pate in larger quantities, making it the main savory filling ingredient.
  • Homemade Mayo – Sometimes made from an egg yolk & vegetable oil combination, or other shops will even have a store bought mayo or miracle whip. Most shops will have some type of rich, white spread.
  • Fresh herbs – In the U.S., we usually see fresh cilantro sprigs. However, other herbs were popular in different regions of Vietnam.
  • Pickled Carrots & Daikon – Usually finely shredded or julienned, these sour, vinegared accompaniments provide the salty, sour layer of flavor.
  • Cucumber slices – Most places put in fresh cucumber slices, while a few may put in pickled cucumbers in the same manner as pickled carrots and daikon.
  • Jalapeño slices or other Chilies – Warning for the lighthearted: Pepper spice potency level will vary heavily. Nibble on a slice from your sandwich first before you bite  The jalapeño slice that tasted like a mild cucumber last week, just might pop back and kick you in the ass this time.

And now for some info and history behind bánh mì:

Bánh mì is a Vietnamese term for all kinds of bread. Bread, or more specifically the baguette, was introduced by the French during its colonial period. The bread most commonly found in Vietnam is a single serving baguette, therefore the term bánh mì is synonymous with this type of bread. The bánh mì is often associated with a set of sandwiches, often called Vietnamese sandwiches, that are made with the bánh mì. Typical fillings include steamed, pan-roasted or oven-roasted seasoned pork belly, Vietnamese sausage, grilled pork, grilled pork patties, spreadable pork liver pâté, pork floss, grilled chicken, chicken floss,canned sardines in tomato sauce, soft pork meatballs in tomato sauce, head cheese, fried eggs, and tofu. Accompanying vegetables typically include fresh cucumber slices, cilantro (leaves of the coriander plant) and pickled carrots and daikon in shredded form. Common condiments include spicy chili sauce, sliced chilis, mayonnaise, and cheese. (Wikipedia)

Bread was first introduced to the Vietnamese in the late 18th century, when Vietnam fell under French colonial rule. The first Bánh Mì was a French baguette with butter, ham or pâté — the traditional, minimal Parisian sandwich. In 1954 French rule ended, and the Vietnamese people began to impose their own influence on Bánh Mì – Butter was replaced with a mayonnaise-like spread, cured hams, pickled vegetables, coriander (cilantro) and fresh chillies were added for flavour. What started as emulation produced a hybrid copy far superior to the original. The world first got introduced to Bánh Mì with the influx of Vietnamese refugees in the late 1970’s and 80’s following the Vietnam War. The Vietnamese refugees set up small bakeries producing Bánh Mì for their community but as time went on it started to become very popular outside these communities and today Bánh Mì is found all over the world. (banhmi.com.au)

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