Crumbs cascaded down my front and dressing dribbled down my chin as I smiled at Mr Glam through mouthfuls of sandwich, not just any sandwich – I had just discovered a Bahn Mi.
Literally meaning wheat bread it is so much more. A crisp length of baguette is cut open and hollowed out, allowing plenty of room for the abundance of filling to come. Rich unctuous mayonnaise is slathered on one side of the bread, maggi sauce on the other, salty pork pate and cold meat is layered over the mayo followed by crisp sweet sour pickled carrot and daikon, a sprinkle of fresh cut chillies and finally topped with fresh coriander and spring onion. Wrapped in paper, which is instantly spotted with grease, you know it’s going to be amazing.
Despite a wonderful food tour in Saigon by scooter, we still hadn’t had a good Bahn Mi, although I’d had a hint that the best were to be had in Hoi An. Of course that’s very subjective as some people say it was invented in Saigon. I’d ordered one on the first night in our Saigon hotel and delicious as it was I just knew it wasn’t the real thing, for the Bahn Mi to have such ‘must have’ status there had to be more flavour.
Hoi An, is a small ancient town on the coast about 845 km north east of Saigon and fortunately our next stop. Made infamous by Anthony Bourdain, Banh Mi Phuong is a tiny narrow shop, open to the pavement where back packers, tourists and locals meet in the constant queue for bahn Mi.
Once inside there is an ordering frenzy, the options are on a decrepit lit up menu above head height, with rough translations underneath. If you don’t decide fast enough they move on to the next person in the queue.
The pate, cold cuts, pickles and herbs are lined up in bowls, deftly picked with chop sticks and tucked into the baguette, there’s much chatter and it’s hard to know if it’s aimed at you or the large number of people filling the bread.
The aroma from the shop is amazing, tart and sweet, it’s not surprising that many people only get as far as the shop exit before plopping down on one of many dusty gnarled tree roots to unwrap and devour their booty. This was the Bahn Mi I’d been looking for, crispy, crunchy, sweet and savoury, both filling and definitely morish and because I couldn’t make up my mind, I ordered four for Mr Glam and I to share on the basis we didn’t need to eat them all. Of course there wasn’t a crumb left, except the ones down my front.
Vietnamese Bahn Mi
This is more of a bringing together of ingredients than an actual recipe. It relies on the ingredients being really fresh and the pickle being just right.
- For the pickles
- 250ml rice wine vinegar
- 30g sugar
- ½ tsp sea salt, you'll need less if you use table salt
- 120g carrots
- 250g radishes
- To make the Bhn Mi
- 2 small baguettes
- 2 tbsp mayonnaise
- 2 tbsp maggi sauce or kecap manis
- 80g pork pate
- 200g cold meat, pork, chicken, turkey or tofu
- 1 chilli finely sliced
- 8 sprigs coriander including the stalk
- 1 spring onion sliced
- Pickled vegetables to taste
- Pour the rice wine vinegar into a medium size bowl,add the sugar and salt and stir until the sugar and salt have dissolved.
- Peel the carrots and wash the radishes, either using a mandolin or a sharp knife slice the radishes very thinly. Do the same with the carrots, but using the peeler is the easiest way to get thin slices.
- Put the sliced vegetables in the pickling solution for a minimum of 20 minutes, longer if you want them to have a stronger pickled flavour.
- To Make the Bahn Mi
- Slice the bread nearly all the way through, but still attached on one long side. Spread one side of each baguette with half the mayo and the other with half the maggi seasoning or soy/kecap manis.
- Spread half the pate on each baguette and pile with the cold meat, then add the chilli half the coriander, onions and pickles to each.
- Force the bread closed and enjoy
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