Having just returned from a wonderful three week vacation in Vietnam, I wanted to recapture some of the tastes of the country. French bread and pastry skills were introduced by the French during Vietnam's colonial era. The tradition continues in the form of croissants and baguettes which can be found everywhere.If you are ever in Hue, I highly recommend the croissants at La Residence Hotel. We ate many croissants on our trip, theirs were the best.
Vietnam has a huge variety of fresh vegetables, tropical fruits, and so many open air markets.They are also the second largest exporter of rice in the world (after Thailand). Fresh spring rolls, made with rice paper and filled with a variety of fresh vegetables, were our constant companions. As were the street vendors selling skewers of cooked meats. Such tantalizing odors!
Chicago isn't Hanoi, but it does have a Vietnamese community. What better way to remind myself of Vietnam than to find the best banh mi sandwich in Chicago? So Sharon and I set off to find a great classic banh mi sandwich. We visited four spots and then created our own version.
Banh mi sandwiches can take many different forms, but most have a number of common ingredients: pickled daikon and carrots, thinly sliced cucumbers, slices of jalapeno pepper, cilantro, mayonnaise, on a light, crusty baguette. So that we could compare the sandwiches at each spot, we always tried to order the same type: the ingredients listed above plus paté, ham, and pork roll as the protein elements.
Here are the spots that we visited:
Saigon Sisters (http://saigonsister.com/)
Nhu Lan (http://www.nhulanchicago.com/)
Banh Mi Ba Get (http://banhmibagetchi.com/)
Ba Le and Nhu Lan bake their own bread. Saigon Sisters buys its bread from Biondillo Bakery and Banh Mi Ba Get orders theirs from the Artesan Bread Company. (http://www.artisanbreadshoppe.com/)
Of all the sandwiches we tasted, we liked the one from Ba Le the best. (The Banh Mi Ba Get Saigon Classic was a close second.) Why did we prefer the Ba Le version?
Like all sandwiches, it begins with the bread. Ba Le's sandwich was served on a light, warm, toasted baguette. Crusty, but not too crusty. It was heaped with delicious, crunchy vegetables, Vietnamese ham, and a schmeer of paté. My only complaint with their sandwich was that the taste of paté was barely discernable. Nhu Lan's sandwich had much more meat, but it didn't have the uniform mix of flavors in every bite that Ba Le's had. The Saigon Classic at Banh Mi Ba Get had the most flavorful paté.
Once we knew what we liked, it was time to create our own sandwich. I revisited Ba Le and bought their pork paté, Vietnamese ham, and baguettes. I pickled some shredded daikon and carrots, toasted the baguette to crisp it up, and then assembled the sandwich. Of course, I gave it a generous schmeer of paté. Delicious! Here's the recipe for one sandwich:
Classic Banh Mi Sandwich (one sandwich)
1 baguette, about 6 inches long
pork paté to taste
2(or more) slices of ham
¼ cup of shredded daikon
¼ cup of shredded carrots
2 thin slices of English hothouse cucumbers, cut to match the baguette length
½ of a sliced jalapeno pepper
handful of cilantro, stems trimmed
1 Tbsp of canola oil
1 tsp of fish sauce
1 tsp of soy sauce
mayonnaise to taste
- 1. Mix a ¼ cup of rice wine vinegar, tsp of sugar, ¼ tsp of salt, then add shredded carrots and daikon and let pickle for at least 15 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
- 2. Toast the baguette in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 5 minutes
- 3. Whisk together the oil, fish sauce and soy sauce
- 4. Assemble the sandwich, starting with spreading the pork paté on the bottom half of the baguette, then top with ham, daikon/carrot mixture, cucumber, jalapeno, cilantro
- 5.Spread the oil mixture and the mayonnaise on the top half of the baguette