Banh Mi - Vietnamese Sandwiches
Banh Mi is perhaps the clearest and longest lasting legacy of French Indochina (1887 - 1954). Its origin is much clearer than that of the other 20th century cross-cultural icon of Vietnam, the soup known as Pho.
The French introduced the baguette and other forms of French bread to Vietnam in the late 19th century. This was something entirely new, as the type of wheat needed for puffy bread was unknown in the region. It was originally called "Banh Tay" (French Bread), but by 1945 it was called "Banh Mi" (Wheat Bread). So tightly are they associated, Banh Mi is also the name of the sandwiches made from this bread.
This page mainly treats Banh Mi sandwiches quickly and easily made
from Vietnamese ingredients readily available in Los Angeles and Orange
Counties. That condition may not prevail in some regions. Instructions
for making many of these ingredients yourself are found in Andrea
Quynhgiao Nguyen's The Banh Mi Handbook, along with many other
sorts of Banh Mi than what we have here. We highly recommend this
book. Ten Speed Press,
ISBN 978-1-60774-533-4 (hc), 978-1-60774-534-1 (ebook).
In austere North Vietnam Banh Mi began very simply - a small roll with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and a spread of pâté or a little sliced meat. It is in the more decadent South Vietnam, particularly Saigon, that the wonderfully diverse Banh Mi sandwiches we know today came to be.These sandwiches are made in many ways, with an incredible array of fillings, vegetables, pickles, herbs and spices, and in the United States, home to the largest Vietnamese community outside Vietnam, they have become even more diverse.
Unacceptable are dense "artisan breads" with thick crusts and strongly
Spread & Sprinkle
Next, the entire cut surface is spread with Mayonnaise. After the spread I apply a generous sprinkle of Magi Seasoning (brown splotches) which is included in most Banh Mi sandwiches. I also add quite a few dollops of Sriracha Sauce. This ingredient is included only by personal preference, and, yes, I like a lot of it.
---------- In Vietnam, European style salted butter is also often used, though Mayonnaise predominates. A newer innovation is to spread it with mashed Avocado (once known as "midshipman's butter"). Flavored mayonnaise spreads are another alternative.
Home made Mayo is best, at least here in "over regulated" California,
but more risky in "business friendly" Red States. Nearly all food
writers agree: the commercial mayo to use is Best Foods "Real Mayonnaise"
(west of the Mississippi) or Hellmann's "Real Mayonnaise" (east of the
Mississippi and Canada). In any case, it should be the full fat version.
Don't worry about it, the "low fat diet" never worked and has recently
been revealed to have been a secret marketing campaign by the sugar
Main Filling Layer
---------- Many different fillings are used in Vietnam - most are cold, but also warm fillings are used. Traditional fillings include grilled Chicken, grilled Pork or grilled Beef. Seafood fillings are also used. Vietnamese in North America have expanded the fillings list considerably, even as far as Andrea Nguyen's Oyster Po'boy, Sloppy Joe and Korean Beef and Kimchi Banh Mi.
Vegetarian fillings are available, such as omelet, tempeh and
mushrooms, whole or sliced. There are a number of tofu products that
will work, particularly pressed tofu seasoned and baked. For suggestions
see our Tofu / Bean Curd
page. Also wheat gluten based products can be stewed, seasoned or
otherwise prepared for this use. See our
Wheat Gluten page.
--------- Other vegetables you can use include thin sticks of
Carrot and Daikon Radish, sliced Fresno or Jalapeno Chilis, strips of
red or green Bell Peppers, sliced grape tomatoes, Scallions, etc.
Packaged Asian Mustard Green pickles and European Sauerkraut could
also be used. Asian markets serving a strong Vietnamese community will have
jars of various pickles, including Leeks and Shallots that can be
sliced and used in Banh Mi.
Cucumber & Herb Layer
Many, many fresh herbs are used in Vietnam. Cilantro is probably the
most used, but my strong favorite for these sandwiches is Dill. This is
not "authentic", because the Vietnamese don't usually use Dill raw.
Finished Banh Mi
Finished and Cut Banh Mi
Finished and Cut Party Banh Mi
Again, I use a very thin, razor sharp Santoku vegetable slicing knife rather than a serrated bread knife. Serrated knives tend to tear rather than cut.