There are two popular foods in the Viet repertoire — things that whether you're an insider or outsider, you know and love: pho noodle soup and banh mi sandwiches. They both appeared in the Vietnamese culinary scene around the turn of the 20th century, and are a mix of Eastern and Westnern cultures, the embodiment of Vietnam. We were fusion and hybrid before those terms were applied to food and cars!
Banh mi baguette sandwiches have been tweaked countless ways over the years, with Jalapenos added in the U.S., for example. What we know now as banh mi was originally a southern Vietnamese (Saigon) version. Folks like my mother and father knew banh mi as warm baguette with pate or just salt and pepper!
I've written in the past about new incarnations of Vietnamese banh mi and many of you have chimed in. Now, New Yorkers are getting a dose of nouveau banh mi. While there are traditional versions of banh mi sandwiches in Chinatown, in hipster places like Brooklyn and other locales, you'll find crazy new ones filled with the ingredients for pho, sloppy Joes, and even polish sausages. Last week, New York Times reporter Julia Moskin and I chatted about the evolution of banh mi in New York City for her story:
Notes: For homemade banh mi, Julia included a recipe for pickled daikon and carrot from my book, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen.
Mayo or butter? One of the things that Julia and I discussed was the use of mayonnaise versus butter to moisten the bread. I prefer whole fat, whole egg mayonnaise, and some folks gussy it up with butter. In Vietnam, butter is very expensive but you can easily make good mayonnaise with fresh eggs and oil, readily available ingredients. Are you a mayo or butter person?
Old or new? Your thoughts on traditional versus 'new' banh mi?
For a final shout out — note how both Cathy Danh of Gastronomy Blog and I were both included in the story. Very cool.
Use the banh mi recipe to make your own!