When you return from a trip to another country, do you also crave for the familiar flavors of food from back home? I do. Without fail. No matter how glorious the food is, after several days I start to miss eating a plate of tapsilog, a bowl of adobo that’s been simmered deliciously in vinegar and soy sauce, or even just tortang talong. Nothing like travel to make you appreciate and long for what you have back home. But it can also expand your tapa-adobo-tortang talong lineup in the kitchen.
From our trip to Saigon, I knew one of the dishes I wanted to recreate from the Vietnamese city was banh mi. The popular Vietnamese sandwich is found in many street corners of Vietnam. The ones I got to try in Saigon didn’t really have the best ingredients and they were exposed to the elements all day (it is after all a street food), but the baguette made the sandwich–it always had this crispy thin crust and a soft and airy dough that managed to make this street corner staple memorable. It was cheap, filling, and packing a lot of flavor in a sublime piece of bread.
Online search on how to make banh mi led me to this recipe, which I made with a few alterations on the serving size and the meat I decided to use (one thing about the banh mi–unless you want to make a strictly Vietnamese version, you can substitute the cold cuts and pork belly slices with other kinds of meat). I was quite pleased with how the pickled veggies turned out. The baguette I got to use though was more dense than airy, but the familiar flavors easily reminded me of Saigon street corners.
Ingredients for one sandwich
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/8 cup or 2 tablespoons water
1/8 cup or 2 tablespoons white sugar
1/8 cup carrot, sliced into 1/16-inch thick
1/8 cup white (daikon) radish, sliced
1/8 cup thinly sliced white onion
(the recipe calls for 1 skinless, boneless chicken breast half with garlic salt and ground black pepper to taste, but since I had leftover stir-fried chicken dish from the night before, I just used that)
half a French baguette (6 inches)
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1/8 cup thinly sliced cucumber
2 teaspoons fresh cilantro leaves
(also added a smear of pork liver pate even though the recipe didn’t call for it as the Vietnamese versions I tried had it)
- Place rice vinegar, water, and sugar into a saucepan over medium heat, bring to a boil, and stir until the sugar has dissolved, about 1 minute. Allow the mixture to cool. (Just like making achara!)
- Pour the cooled vinegar mixture over the carrot, radish, and onion in a bowl, and allow to stand for at least 30 minutes. Drain off the excess vinegar mixture after the vegetables have marinated.
- Slice the cooked chicken (or whatever meat you’re using) into bite-size pieces.
- Slice the baguette in half the long way. Lightly toast the bread for 2 to 3 minutes.
- To assemble the bahn mi sandwich, spread each half of the toasted baguette with mayonnaise, and fill the cavity of the bottom half of the bread with your choice of meat, cucumber slices, pickled carrot, onion, and radish, and cilantro leaves. (The recipe called for jalapeno peppers and juice from a wedge of lime. I didn’t remember the banh mi vendors putting them so I didn’t make the trip to the market to buy those two additional ingredients.)