I really love sandwiches. What’s not to love about them? Bread – good, condiments – good, and a filling to tickle your fancy. Portable, packable, all around satisfying. Sandwiches are good food.
Although there are many different sandwiches upon which I bestow my affection – a good BLT on toasted whole wheat, leftover Thanksgiving food on a sturdy white, meatloaf with ketchup on rye – I think the best sandwich may just be that Indochine fusion classic known as bánh mì.
Bánh mì are Vietnamese sandwiches, and there are as many variations as the day is long, but the unifying factor is good French bread and pickled vegetables. I first heard of bánh mì from John Thorne’s Pot on the Fire, where he chronicled his discovery of bánh mì – Vietnamese cold cuts, liver pate (another thing borrowed from the French), pickled carrots and daikon, cilantro, chilies. This piqued my curiosity enough to drive me to NYC’s Chinatown, where I had my first ever bánh mì, and it was revelatory. The sweetness of the carrots, the brightness of herbs, the heat of the chilies, the chew of the meat and the richness of the pate, all bundled together in that pinnacle of human achievement known as a baguette – let’s just say I was hooked.
I’m lucky to live in a city with a large Vietnamese population where bánh mì are available, though these days I have to get my bánh mì fix in the San Gabriel Valley, which is an hour drive from my house. It’s worth it more often than you may think, but some days I really want a bánh mì NOW and I don’t have time to drive to Rosemead. Luckily, bánh mì, like most sandwiches, are wildly adaptable and easy to prepare at home.