I met my friend Steve for lunch last week, who suggested we go to a sandwich shop he had just tried in Chinatown. I wasn’t sure what kind of sandwich I was expecting, but I was amazed at the sandwiches on offer. Don’s Cafe sells Vietnamese sandwiches called Bánh mì (pronounced BUN-mee), which is the Vietnamese word for bread, but has also come to mean sandwich.
During French colonialism in Indochina, the baguette was introduced and the locals developed their variation which used rice and wheat flours, making a lighter, crispier bread with a crackly crust and an airy crumb. After the French pulled out in 1954, and the importation of French ingredients came to a halt, the Bánh mì sandwich was born using the baguette with local Vietnamese ingredients such as chillies, cilantro (fresh coriander), daikon ( Chinese radish) and pickled carrots. Nowadays, Bánh mì are available throughout the world, wherever there is a Vietnamese immigrant population.
Afterwards I spoke to Bill about my new find, and he said that he already knew about Bánh mì. I can’t believe he had been keeping this secret from me. I’ve now been back twice to try these delicious sandwiches, and I’m hooked.
As I have said the type of baguette is far lighter in texture than French baguettes which does add a more-ish quality. The baguettes are usually spread with mayonnaise, thin slices of cucumber, cilantro, chillies and pickled carrot are added and then the main filling choice. The main filling choices include BBQ, grilled and shredded chicken, beef and pork, as well as pork meat balls, and pate. The sandwich is then cut in half and wrapped in paper for easy eating. At less than $3 per sandwich these are the best value, tastiest sandwiches you can find anywhere. You could buy 2 of these and still have change left over compared to some big national sandwich chains.
At most Vietnamese sandwich shops you will also find Phở, a Vietnamese noodle soup, but I will save that for another day as it is a subject in its own right.