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Street Food Focus: Banh Mi

By Ashley Bode | January 10, 2012

Photo: Gracie

When people hear the phrase Asian Food most are inclined to instantly think of Sushi, General Tsaos Chicken and Jasmine Tea; but there is so much more to the food belonging to the world’s most populated continent.

As New Yorkers we have the privilege of indulging in cuisine from any country, including the countries in Asia. Korea town is known for Korean-style fried chicken, Kim Chi and barbecue. China town offers dumplings of all shapes and sizes, pork buns, corn cakes and bubble tea. Midtown hosts several Japanese restaurants made for the late-night crowd looking for Yakatori feasts of noodles and sake. My personal favorite Asian Food however, is less known, yet still maintains a cult-like following: Banh Mi, or Vietnamese sandwiches.

Consider it like a Vietnamese style hoagie, served on Baguette-style bread, bread you can thank French colonization for, with ingredients usually consisting of pickled veggies, house cured or grilled meats, homemade mayonnaise and hot peppers. Were you to visit Vietnam, the Banh Mi (pronounced bun-mee) would taste much different, but like most ethnic food that makes its way to the United States, specifically New York City, the Banh Mi has taken many different shapes. The original sandwich was just pate spread on a sliced baguette with sliced ham. The Banh Mi I find today in my neighborhood is Saigon style, which no longer focuses on the meat but instead the multitude of ingredients and flavors that are stacked high on each sandwich.

What could possibly make this hoagie so special? It has an indescribable spice, sweetness and saltiness from all the ingredients that makes this lunch beyond hearty and possibly in a category separate from all other deli favorites. The bread should have an impeccable crunchiness, not too dry, but crisp enough to add texture and heat to the sandwich’s contents. There should be spice, if it is made without hot peppers, your vendor will usually have Sriracha available which works as a suitable substitute. Try the classic sandwich before venturing out into the more eccentric territory of creative Banh Mi makers; Italian Sausage, Sloppy Joe and other American-ized versions of the sandwich do exist.  But there is a reason the original has been eaten for so many years, it is just plain perfection.

For Banh Mi in Manhattan check out these spots:

Nicky’s- 150 E 2nd St New York, NY 10009

Thai Son-89 Baxter Street, New York, NY

Banh Mi Cart- Pearl St & Hanover Sq New York, NY 10038

For a list of Banh Mi nationwide visit the Banh Mi directory at Battle of The Banh Mi, a Banh Mi fan community.

For more of Ashley’s tips and recipes, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

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