This is a very hip sandwich right now. The Vietnamese street food staple has made the leap to exalted, pop-cultured favorite. How hip is it? Consider the public feud between rival Banh Mi shops Hanco’s and Henry’s in Park Slope, Brooklyn (epicenter of hipness). It was featured here on This American Life.
Why so hip?
This sandwich tastes unbelievably good. It has a fantastic variety of flavors, textures, and even temperatures. Hot marinated pork meets fresh cilantro and cool cucumber and pickled daikon / carrot. Since it comes from the streets of Vietnam, and sandwich vendors each have a slightly different take, there may not be a “standard” recipe out there. This one appealed to me because it had ingredients I could find easily, and it had most of the flavors that I remember from my own trip to Henry’s in Brooklyn (hardly the gold standard of Vietnamese sandwiches, but it was DAMN satisfying).
The term Banh Mi is commonly used to describe this style of sandwich, this marinated-meat-in-a-baguette that we have all come to love. In Vietnam the term describes the bread alone, a carryover from French colonial times (as are the mayonnaise and paté in the sandwich). Bánh mì thịt, bánh mì xíu mại, or bánh mì pâté chả thịt describe the sandwich and it’s varieties, which may include Vietnamese sausage, head cheese, paté, or pork belly. In this case, variety truly is the spice of life. When you order a banh mi, you know what you’re going to get, and also you don’t. For lovers of sandwiches, nothing could be better.
So this recipe, then, from Traveler’s Lunchbox, has everything except the pork liver paté, a flavor profile that I really enjoyed from my first taste of this sandwich. Locating this product wasn’t easy. It wasn’t in the canned-meat area, where I expected to find it. I found it in the high-end cheese area, and the paté was not cheap either. So instead I bought a quarter pound of thinly sliced liverwurst from the deli, which is basically the same thing. I almost bought headcheese just for something different, but they were out. OUT of headcheese. I know. So make sure you add that liverwurst. You won’t be disappointed.
For the bread I used the sub rolls made in-house at my local supermarket. Slightly less crusty than a baguette and pillowy-soft on the inside, it seemed the closest thing available to traditional banh mi. I also drizzled some sriracha over the whole thing.
Saveur has their own recipe, but it looks more labor intensive and has more specialized ingredients. I may give it a shot one day, as well.