The very first time I came across these delightfully flavourful, fragrant, spicy sandwiches was at my local Asian store in Houston. Unfortunately, I couldn’t try them back then because for one, I couldn’t communicate with the little old lady making them to ask her which ones, if any, didn’t have pork. All I know is that they looked so colourful and appetising as she handed them over to the person ordering, and I knew I had to research them so I knew what to ask (providing I could communicate with the person), next time I had the opportunity.
I never did get to try one. After I researched the banh mi, I found out that most are based around meat, though there is an occasional vegetarian one and ones made for breakfast that have eggs, but they too have some sort of meat, usually pork, that I could not eat. Even the chicken ones usually have a pâté smeared inside and that puts it out of my reach. So, the only way to satisfy my craving for these wonderful morsels was to make them myself.
They have been on my “to do” list for a good two or three years now! I just never got around to making them. I have been fortunate to live close to a fabulous Asian stores each time I’ve moved (4 times in 5 years). I have a great store close to me now with a big variety of Asian foods and delicacies available from bronzed, glistening ducks, smoked sausages and pastries to an array of fresh Asian vegetables that are so lush and fragrant but whose names I cannot pronounce nor read most of the time!
What’s great about this store is the bakery; you are almost certain to be met with a heavenly aroma of baked goods as soon as you enter the store, drawing you towards the various kinds of freshly baked breads, pastries and cakes. Once again, I am at a loss with the signs.
One of the things I can read and see clearly without translation, is their French baguettes, made specially for these banh mi. In Vietnamese, the banh mi refers to bread in general. The popularity of these sandwiches have now made the banh mi a label for sandwiches, not just bread.
Sandwiches became popular in Vietnam during the French colonisation. The French colonised Vietnam in the middle of the 19th century until 1940 and influenced Vietnam’s food scene. The Vietnamese became experts in French pastries and breads. Some of the best pastries I had in Houston came from a Vietnamese baker, an acquaintance of my brother.
The baguettes that are made for these banh mi are a little different from regular French baguettes in that these are very light and extra crispy. I believe they have some rice flour added to aid in the crispiness and airiness. The extra airy insides allows you to fill the sandwich to the brim with the goodies and still keep the bread crisp.
If possible, seek out the Vietnamese baguettes but if that’s not possible, use small, individual, regular baguettes and pull out some of the insides to allow room for stuffing. I would make these which ever way you can! They are so good that you should not wait to find the right kind of bread just to make them.
I mentioned above some of the varations you can find of banh mi, the vegetarian and breakfast one with eggs. Other popular ones are made with BBQ’d beef, pork or chicken, or ones smeared with pâté and filled with pickles and chillies; another popular banh mi is the one filled with meatballs. Cilantro, green chillies, pickled daikon and carrots are popular condiments to accompany the meat inside the sandwich, all tied together with a spicy mayonnaise.
My recipe was adapted from Andrea Ngyuen. She has a wonderful blog,Viet World Kitchen and is the author of many great Vietnamese cook books. Whenever I need a Vietnamese recipe, I turn to her website.
Serves: 6 sandwiches
- 6 Vietnamese style baguettes
- lemongrass grilled chicken
- daikon carrot pickle
- 1 large English cucumber, sliced in long slices/thin wedges
- cilantro or mixed herbs
- spicy mayonnaise
- 2lbs/1kg boneless chicken breasts
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoon chopped garlic
- 2 tablespoon chopped shallot or yellow onion
- 2 stalk lemongrass, trimmed and finely chopped
- 2 teaspoon soy sauce
- 3 tablespoon fish sauce
- 2 tablespoon oil
- 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into thick matchsticks
- 1 pound/454g daikon,around 2 inches in diameter, peeled and cut into thick matchsticks
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ cup + 2 teaspoons sugar
- 11/4 cups/230mL distilled white vinegar
- 1 cup/230mL lukewarm water
- Fire up the gas or charcoal grill (can use the oven too, 400℉/200℃ and finish on broil)
- Make deep gashes on the chicken breasts.
- Mix the brown sugar, garlic, onion, lemongrass, soy sauce, and fish sauce together in a bowl.
- Add the chicken breasts and marinate for at least an hour.
- The chicken will start taking on a nice brown colour.
- Remove the chicken from the marinade and toss in the oil.
- Place on the hot grill and cook.
- Grill until golden brown on the outside and cooked through, about 20/30 minutes.
- In the oven, bake until cooked through and then broil until brown and slightly charred.
- Let cool before slicing for sandwiches.
- Place the carrot and daikons in a bowl and sprinkle with the salt and 2 teaspoons of the sugar
- Use your hands to knead the vegetables for about 3 minutes and releasing the water.
- Stop kneading when the daikon is flexible but does not break when bent.
- Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water, then press gently to expel extra water.
- Return the vegetables to the bowl if you plan to eat them soon, or transfer them to a 1-quart jar for longer storage.
- To make the brine, in a bowl, combine the ½ cup sugar, the vinegar, and the water and stir to dissolve the sugar.
- Pour over the vegetables allowing the brine to cover the vegetables completely.
- Let the vegetables marinate in the brine for at least 1 hour before eating.
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- Sriracha hot sauce or any preferred hot sauce, to taste
- Sweet garlic and chilli sauce, to taste
- Slice open a baguette and smear liberally with spicy mayonnaise.
- Add slices of grilled chicken.
- Stuff with cucumber slices, carrot daikon pickles and cilantro or choice of herbs.
If you have not tried these sandwiches, you do not know what you are missing! Find yourself a good Asian store or restaurant and buy them or make them. They are so easy. Start with my very easy and delicious Banh Mi Ga and go from there!
Hope you are all having a great week and spring has inspired you to create!
As I write this, I am getting ready for a blizzard expected tonight (which means I am scouring my cook books for something to bake tomorrow :))