I’ve warbled across these pages before about Vietnamese food, and in particular, the delicious noodle broth called pho. Today I’d like to shine the spotlight on another giant of the Vietnamese culinary scene, the meat and vegetable baguette known as the banh mi. A simple construction of a baguette, pate, mayonnaise, picked carrots, coriander and grilled pork, the banh mi provides that a hearty, yet portable snack.
With its large Vietnamese community, Australia has well and truly embraced the banh mi, with hundreds of small bakeries in any major city. Despite the sheer volume of businesses, there seems to be little competition — watch as queues form outside each and every one as lunchtime approaches. Customers file in and give their order to the girls behind the counter, who make the sandwiches from scratch — health regulations surrounding pork require that the rolls be made fresh. No dank bain-maries here. Each outlet usually allows a huge degree of customisation, meaning that you are able to tailor the sandwich to your particular tastes. I demand scads of coriander and chill, though I can understand why others shun me and consider me a heretic in this regard.
The joy of a banh mi lies in the experience of unwrapping the roll and slowly devouring it as you go about your business. It’s very much a mobile dish. Sure, chili sauce may leak onto your shirt cuff, but life is short and we roll the dice every day. The risk factor is part of the experience. The salty, tender pork and the tangy picked vegetables of the filling provide a delicious counterpoint to one another. The crisp French baguette adds a familiar, hearty finish. In addition, the rolls are usually fairly large and have a tendency to stick to the ribs — these won’t leave you hungry like a sushi roll.
Portable, flavoursome and hearty, the banh mi leaves sausage rolls, Chiko rolls — even the mighty meat pie in its wake. It’s an experience you’ll want to factor into your daily routine. What’s more, they’re cheap and plentiful. Head down to your local little Saigon and line up with the folks who know the score. I’m pretty sure you’ll be back time and time again.