The banh mi and I have a history in that we don’t have a history at all. We totally should, but we totally don’t.
Banh mi are riding the wave of popularity all over the country right now, but it used to be that you could really only find them in Vietnamese communities in big cities. Or the entire state of Hawaii. Hear my story.
The Booze Hound and I had just moved to Hawaii and were hunting for a place to buy French food. Because that’s how my mind works. We saw a little sandwich shop in the mall with a little Eiffel Tower in its logo and we thought we had hit the jackpot. Wuh-wuh. It was a Vietnamese sandwich shop. Why were they teasing me with the neon iconic Paris landmark? What did the Vietnamese know about French baguette?
Folks, there are ringlet perms on husky second graders with huge neon-peach glasses. And then there are really bad decisions. Not going into that Vietnamese sandwich shop was a really bad decision.
Had I stopped to connect the dots that the Vietnamese probably know a leetle bit about baguettes from, say, their extended time as a French colony in the 1800s, I would have realized that was my best shot at a French baguette in the South Pacific. But nay, I just scowled at that sandwich shop every time we walked past. Scowled as they probably made the best banh mi ever.
In my defense, I do eat like a local wherever I go, and I earned my stripes in Hawaii. In between all the fabulous Thai curries, poke salads, pho, and shave ice, I ate poi and pig’s blood. That’s right, I’m badass. But I regrettably left out the banh mi. Woe is mi.
Between all the food blogs and magazines I read, versions of the bahn mi pass in front of my eyes all the time. So I decided to see what the fuss was all about.
Roll Tide. War Eagle. Go Vols. We are. Whatever your battle cry, cry it now. It’s a meal worth the fuss.
When I say meal, I mean meal. There’s crispy-squishy baguette, meaty meat, pickled veggies, and, in this version, sriracha mayo. I needed both hands to eat it, then it dripped on my forearms and spilled down my shirt. A full-body eating experience. YES.
The thing I always forget about Vietnamese food is that it’s perfectly sweet-savory. A lot of dishes begin with a tiny base of caramel, which is what gives the final savory product a little bit of balanced sweetness. I really need to make and eat Vietnamese food more often. It’s awesome.
Although I am sure this is not a classical preparation of the meat, the sweet-savory sauce thickly coats the ground pork with all that classic Vietnamese flavor we know and love. You pile the meat on a spicy mayo-slathered baguette… top everything with cold, crisp, pickled veggies… add some cilantro… top the baguette. Then you put on a bib and enjoy.
There are more than a few steps to making banh mi, so it’s not really something you start when you come home from work or when your spouse comes home and assumes child control. But it is very easy, and partly make-ahead. The mayo can be made days in advance, you can make the pickled veggies at least a day ahead of time, and then all that’s left is the meat. If you’re one of those cats who makes all your food on Sunday to eat throughout the week, the meat can probably be made ahead of time and warmed up on the stove.
I wish I hadn’t waited till the 10th anniversary of the year I turned 21 to make banh mi for the first time, but I do plan to make up for it. Trust mi.
- Pickled Vegetables:
- 2 cups white distilled vinegar
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 cups julienned daikon radish (cut with a mandoline if you have it- I used a knife because I don't have a mandoline, but would love one for Mother's Day...)
- 1 cup julienned carrots (see above)
- 1 small or ½ large English cucumber, partially peeled in sections to leave some skin on, sliced thinly into half moons
- Spicy Mayonnaise:
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 to 2 tablespoons Sriracha
- ½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 large yellow onion, ¼-inch dice (about 2 cups)
- 1 T freshly grated ginger
- 8 cloves garlic, minced
- ⅔ cup chicken stock
- ¼ cup fish sauce (see note)
- ¼ cup hoisin sauce
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 pounds ground pork
- Sandwich Build:
- Six 8-inch hoagie rolls
- 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
- 1 jalapeño, thinly sliced (optional- I didn't use it because the mayo was spicy enough!)
- For the pickled vegetables: Heat the vinegar, sugar and salt in a small pot until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the daikon, carrots and cucumbers. When the liquid cools slightly, pop it in the fridge for at least an hour.
- For the spicy mayonnaise: Mix the mayonnaise, Sriracha and sesame oil together.
- For the pork: Heat the canola oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until slightly softened, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and cook another 2 minutes. Add ½ cup of the pickling liquid from the pickled vegetables and cook until reduced by half, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock, fish sauce, hoisin sauce and black pepper and stir to combine. Simmer until reduced slightly and thickened, about 10 minutes. Add the ground pork, breaking up the meat with the back of a wooden spoon or spatula, and cook until the pork is cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes.
- For the sandwich build: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Heat the rolls for 5 minutes, to crisp the crust and soften the interior. Slice the rolls open, but keep them hinged (this is easier said than done, aka mine were sliced all the way through- just makes eating them a messier endeavor). Spread desired amount of spicy mayo on the bottom roll, place some pork on top of that, top with some pickled vegetables, cilantro leaves, jalapeno slices (if using), and the top baguette half.