No matter where you are in the world – from bustling cities to quaint villages, the perfect sandwich is waiting for you! Here we share with you, what we consider, the ultimate sandwich experience: the Bánh Mì.
Exaggeration often makes us queasy, but it is difficult to imagine a sandwich that can beat the bánh mì in terms of being the ideal meal. It’s handheld, customizable, and has an endlessly rich taste, with every component ticking a particular box – from the crunchiest bread to a generous serving of condiments and the various fillings that can be added to the bánh mì.
Put simply, the name of this Vietnamese dish translates to “bread,” with “bánh” referring to various, generally baked, dough-based foods and “mì” to wheat. The dish starts with a freshly baked baguette, and from there, the possibilities are endless. You can choose from a variety of fillings, such as cold cuts, meatballs, sardines, or moist chicken. Our personal favourite is a fried egg with a generous slathering of pâté. You can then add your own preferred garnishes, including pickled carrots and daikon, butter, cucumber, mayonnaise, and herbs like cilantro. If you’re a fan of the umami taste, then drizzling some Maggi seasoning on top is a must.
The Bánh Mì has a fascinating history, starting from its humble beginnings to its widespread popularity today. Although the dish is considered Vietnamese, its origins are global. Bánh mì has been referenced in Vietnam since the early 1800s, but it didn’t become a popular sandwich until the French introduced baguettes to the country in the 19th century. Due to the disruption of wheat imports during World War I, Vietnamese chefs began experimenting with rice flour, making bread more accessible to the local people. In the 1950s, bánh mì became even more distinctively Vietnamese, departing from French tastes. Since the 1970s, bánh mì has spread globally, following the Vietnamese diaspora. Today, you can find bánh mì wherever there are Vietnamese communities.
Bánh Mì are, frankly, perfect sandwiches. It is a complex yet satisfying dish, and it is customizable and versatile enough to satisfy all palates. In this recipe, the focus is on the pork, which is marinated, broiled, and then stuffed into a crunchy baguette along with pickles, mayo, butter, and herbs. You can prepare both the pork and pickles in advance. Additionally, any leftover cooked pork shoulder can be used in other dishes such as rice and eggs, noodles or even as another Bánh Mì filling. The pickles will also last for several weeks in the fridge and can be used in future meals.
Pork Bánh Mì
For the Pork
650gr boneless pork collar
¼ cup sugar
1 medium shallot, minced
8 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp minced fresh lemongrass
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp oil oil
For the Pickles
1 daikon radish
1 tsp salt
¾ cup white vinegar
½ cup sugar
4 bánh mì (see tip below), warmed
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup unsalted butter
1 cucumber, thinly sliced diagonally
4 fried eggs (optional)
Seasoning Sauce, e.g. Maggi
- To prepare the pork, cut it into 2-3 inch chunks and thinly slice them on a cutting board. In a medium bowl, mix sugar, shallot, garlic, lemongrass, fish sauce, soy sauce, and oyster sauce. Add the pork slices and coat them well with the mixture. Cover and refrigerate the pork for at least 2 hours or up to overnight to marinate.
- While the pork is marinating, prepare the pickles. Peel the daikon and carrot, then cut each into ⅛ inch-thick matchsticks. In a medium bowl, toss the vegetables with salt and let it stand for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, stir together vinegar, sugar and ½ cup warm water in a liquid measuring cup or small bowl until completely dissolved.
- Rinse the salted vegetables thoroughly under running water and squeeze them to remove excess moisture. Transfer the vegetables back to the same bowl or a jar if not using right away. Pour the vinegar mixture over the vegetables to cover them entirely and let them pickle for another 30 minutes. Then either drain them to use immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 month or until the pickles lose their firmness.
- When ready to cook the pork, heat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the pork from the marinade and pat it dry. Toss the pork with oil and set it on a sheet pan lined with aluminium foil in a single layer with space between the pieces. Roast it on the centre rack until just cooked through, which should take 12-15 minutes. Then move the pan to the upper rack and broil the meat on high until browned and crisp in spots, which should take 3-5 minutes.
- Remove the pork from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, slice the warmed baguettes lengthwise. Spread each baguette with mayonnaise and butter, then layer it with pickles and cucumber slices. Divide the cooked pork among the four baguettes and, if using fried eggs, add them to each sandwich. Then sprinkle seasoning sauce, if desired, and add cilantro to taste. Serve immediately.
- It is unlikely that you find Vietnamese bread locally. Instead, you can opt for other light rolls, such as baguettes, with thin, crackling crusts and slightly chewy centres.
It’s nearly impossible to single out the best version of the perfect Bánh Mì. One of the greatest pleasures of this Vietnamese sandwich is thinking that you’ve found the best one, only to discover a few weeks later another equally delicious version. However, what makes a Bánh Mì truly special is the sense of community and history that comes with it, as well as the shared curiosity among diners to find out if there’s a better one out there.