At long last! This bánh mì recipe is a follow up to the recipe I last posted, the Vietnamese pork belly recipe over two years ago (!!). I’m hoping the next recipe here won’t take another two years :).
Originally designed as on-the-go street food, bánh mì is compact, portable and although I’m selling it pretty hard here it really is an affordable and humble creation any sandwich lover needs to try.
The Vietnamese sandwich was influenced by French colonialism in Vietnam with French baguettes (much like Vietnamese coffee is), but the Vietnamese people have made this sandwich one of their own creations.
What is Bánh Mì?
Vietnamese bánh mì is a departure from our simple homemade white bread sandwiches, with more distinct and unique flavors than the typical american chain foot-long sandwiches. You get your crunchy crusty bread fix with savory meats, fatty and salty spreads, crunchy pickles to balance out the richness, and herbs for a tidy handheld meal loaded with flavor.
Bánh mì is a Vietnamese sandwich. Bánh mì also literally means bread, much like the way the Vietnamese word for rice can also refer to “meals” or “food.” I’ve always wondered if its a ‘shortcut’ way of saying things or since the core ingredient, such as bread or rice, is so important it’s inseparable from the dish or meal you make of it.
Buying Vietnamese Sandwiches From Local Stores
I grew up with mom making these sandwiches at home in San Jose, and now I’m lucky to still live near a major Vietnamese community, Little Saigon, in Southern California. There are dozens of bánh mì shops nearby like Gala Bakery and many locations of Bánh Mì Che Cali. I used to eat a lot of Lee’s Sandwiches and they’re still a decent option when they have fresh baguettes coming out of the oven, but you can find better quality sandwiches from smaller mom n’ pop spots.
Perhaps the presence of so much competition in Southern California keeps the prices well below the $5 American subs, which I’m thankful for. And if you get the ubiquitous Vietnamese buy-2-get-1 free deal, it’s even cheaper to load up.
What makes a good Vietnamese sandwich?
The main thing that stands out is the bread. Type and quality is crucial. Good bread is a base for the rest of the ingredients (which you should carefully select too).
Some people bake this bread at home, and after failing about a dozen times at regular French baguettes, I concede on that front. In this recipe I used store bought mini Vietnamese baguettes. Ain’t no shame in that!
The problem with a good baguette for bánh mì is you can’t buy it anywhere but from a Vietnamese bakery. Those large, dense loaves that American supermarkets bake (sometimes for their garlic bread) are massive and a bit dense, but can work in a pinch. French bread will get you closer.
Avoid sourdough, anything too dense and go for a crispy crust. Vietnamese baguette is typically pretty airy with a crispy crust. Some markets have small loaves of french bread which will work for this.
When you get a chance to try a shop with bread specifically made for these sandwiches, everything will change even if your filling ingredients remain the same.
While store made sandwiches can be damn good and convenient, making it at home can be even better when you tailor it to your own tastes.
And to be frank, no Viet sandwich shop makes pickles the way I like–they’re usually too pungent and watery. Homemade pork belly for these sandwiches can be much better quality when you control everything to your liking from the fattiness of the meat, cut thickness, seasoning and amount of meat.
If you need a drink to pair with your Vietnamese sandwich, there’s nothing more fitting than a cà phê sữa đá, or an iced Vietnamese coffee!
- 4 to 6 Vietnamese baguettes - the fresher the better
- 1 to 1.5 lb homemade pork belly, sliced
- Vietnamese pate (optional)
- 2-3 crunchy cucumbers (I like Persian style)
- Homemade Viet pickles / Đồ chua - as much as you'd like
- 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 8 to 12 springs cilantro
- 1 to 2 medium jalapeños, ⅛" sliced
- Maggi or soy sauce, to taste
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Toast baguettes to warm, but not so crispy that they fall apart when you split them to add fillings.
- Wash all the veggies and slice to prep. Slicing with a mandoline will keep everything uniform.
- Cut baguettes in half but leave the back part uncut so the loaf stays intact
- Add mayo and/or pate to the bottom, then layer the meat and veggies to your liking
- Add a few shakes of Maggi or soy sauce, and a few grinds of pepper to taste