It had been over fifteen years since I’d talked to my cousin Solange. Our last conversation was basic, full of minimal niceties exchanged at her wedding which included ballroom dancers, videographers, and tables weighed down by Chinese food and bottles of 7-Up and Martell (prime Viet wedding beverages to be mixed into an unusual tea of sorts). Last Sunday’s event was rather somber, her father’s giỗ -- an annual memorial gathering to commemorate a family member’s death. Her dad was my father’s older brother and my parents asked us to attend with them to show our respects.
Among the first things out of Solange’s mouth was praise for my cookbooks. She said that Into the Vietnamese Kitchen had made her a god cook. (Her mom, whom I wrote about here, was a doctor and researcher, not a domestic goddess.) I was flattered and said that Solange should try the banh mi book because it’s easy and fun; she and her husband have two teenage daughters.
“Banh mi is hard. You wrote a book on how to make it?”she said with a tone of incredulity. Solange is a doctor and her husband is a neurologist. I assured her that making banh mi is not as difficult as what they deal with in their lives.
But Solange’s response was not uncommon. Last month a renowned pastry chef, chocolate expert and cookbook author told me that she didn’t think she could make a good banh mi sandwich. Seriously? She explained that there seemed to be so many vagaries in the sandwich.
Given those two recent conversations, I thought I’d take some time out to dispel common banh mi myths and misunderstandings.