If you’ve never tried a Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwich… It’s time.
Street food is a weakness of mine. When I travel anywhere, it’s the first thing I look for. You can often get the real sense of a country’s (or city’s) culinary clout by what you purchase from a rickety cart on a bustling corner.
In some way, such workman-meals give away a culture’s deeper secrets. What can the average cart-pushing cook whip up on the sidewalk? What does that say about a people group’s creativity, ingenuity, and zest for life?
You can learn a lot about people by what and how they cook, if you just pay attention.
Some of the best meals of my life have come from street carts. Of course, these were not the most elegant and artful meals I’ve ever eaten. They lacked trendy ingredients, pristine plating, and a lavish environment in which to enjoy them.
Yet as for pure flavor and memorability, street food rules in my book!
There are several meals I ate more than two decades ago that are still so fresh in my mind, I can taste their distinct flavors from memory. Some so unique, I may never be able to recreate them quite right.
Vietnamese is my all-out favorite regional cuisine. Fresh, funky, full-bodied, and fragrant. In my mind the Vietnamese hold the eastern market on flavor and appeal.
As for street food, Vietnam offers a thrilling array of choices. Salad bowls, soups, chicken wings, and spring rolls are all sold curbside to hungry passers. Yet above all these, reigns the Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwich.
Banh Mi is the term for a Vietnamese baguette made with a combination of wheat and rice flours. A Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwich is stuffed with various marinated meats, cucumbers, herbs, and pickled veggies. Most Banh Mi sandwiches are also spread with pate’. The bread and pate’ are no surprise to historians, as Vietnam was a french colony in the 1800s.
The marinated meats and the pickled veggies are the standout items on this sandwich. In my version of the Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwich, the chicken is soaked in a fish sauce and lime juice marinade.
Don’t be tempted to skip the fish sauce. It is a vital part of Vietnamese cooking. My suggestion with fish sauce is, hold your nose while pouring. The heinous odor will diminish once cooked, leaving a remarkable flavor.
I left the pate’ off my Banh Mi sandwiches and added a little mayonnaise. I felt the mayo offered a smooth creamy base and didn’t distract from the star ingredients!
Grilling the marinated chicken creates a caramelized crust with a juicy interior. For those without access to a grill, you could definitely broil the chicken for a similar effect. Although, I suggest investing in an iron grill pan. A good grill pan will produce wonderful grill marks, plus the fat and juices run away from the meat just like on an outdoor grill!
A Banh Mi Sandwich is always a big hit any time I make them. Give it a try!
Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwich
- 6 soft sub rolls
- 1/3 cup mayo
- 1/2 cucumber, sliced thin
- 1 cup cilantro leaves, or mint
- 1 sliced jalapeno for extra heat (optional)
- For the chicken: Mix the first six ingredients in a baking dish. Add the chicken breasts to the dish, cover, and refrigerate at least 1 hour. Longer is better!
- For the pickled vegetables: Stir the hot tap water and sugar in a medium bowl, until the sugar dissolves. Add the vinegar, salt, crushed red pepper, sliced carrots and radishes. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
- Heat the grill to medium. Grill the chicken breasts for 5 minutes per side. Remove from heat and cover them with foil to rest for 5 minutes. Open the sub rolls and grill the insides for about 1-3 minute—until toasted.
- Drain the pickled veggies. Slice the chicken into thin pieces.
- Spread mayo over in the sub rolls. Layer the cucumbers, chicken, pickled veggies, cilantro leaves and jalapeños in the rolls. Serve immediately!
Try with pork loin as well!