Having never made pate before, I didn’t realize just how long it takes to get through an entire terrine of pate. As delicious as it was, a few days of eating it spread on crackers and bread wore off most of its charm. Thats about the time that I start turning the leftovers into other dishes. The other day I used the pate as a stand-in for ham in my leftover eggs benedict. At lunch today, I had a hankering for bánh mì and was about to head out to Baoguette when I realized I had almost all the fixin’s to make my own Vietnamese sandwich at home.
In the US, the humble bánh mì has been enjoying a bit of a renaissance, with small hole-in-the-wall joints cranking out the delicious cheap Vietnamese sandwiches. For me, bánh mì will always be synonymous with the $1.50 sandwiches, that came in a whole, freshly baked baguette from the Blossom Hill neighborhood of San Jose. If you got one at the right time, the bread would still be warm, and where else could you get such a well balanced meal for such a pittance.
While I’m sure that value had a big hand in its success, that doesn’t explain the up-scale places dishing out bánh mì’s in excess of $10. So what is it about bánh mì that’s so appealing? Is it the snap that comes from the crispy crust as you bite into it? Is it the sweet and sour carrot and daikon pickles? Perhaps it’s the palette tingling heat coming from the jalapeno peppers, or the cooling crunch from the cucumbers? Maybe it’s the wacky collection pates, head-cheeses, and grilled meats that are used? I’m sure everyone has their own reasons for loving bánh mì, but for me, it’s all of the above. The way each ingredient comes together to make a savory, sweet, tart, spicy, crunchy, crispy yet balanced sandwich is just magical.
When I was in Vietnam last month, I quickly learned that asking for a bánh mì will get you a baguette with nothing on it. That’s because bánh mì just means bread in Vietnamese. More specifically, a Vietnamese baguette made from a combination of rice and wheat flour. It’s a holdover from the days of French colonial occupation, and while it may look like a baguette on the outside, it’s lighter and more crisp than a French baguette.
Shred equal parts carrot and daikon radish into a bowl and sprinkle with salt. The salt helps the vegetables release some of their water making them less crisp but more crunchy. Given the salted veggies a massage will speed up the release of water. When the veggies are limp, use your hands to squeeze out as much water as you can. Taste the pickles, if they are too salt, rinse them once with water then squeeze them again. Cover the veggies with 4 parts rice vinegar to 1 part fish sauce and 1 part sugar.
To make the sandwich, just toast a whole banh mi until it’s crispy on the outside. If you can’t find the banh mi rolls, I’ve found that hero rolls (i.e. cheap baguettes) work pretty well. Cut the banh mi open on one side, but leave the other side sealed with crust. Use a spoon to hollow out some of the bread from the middle, to hold the filling. Then add you meat(s), pate, sliced cucumber, pickled daikon and carrot, jalepenos, cilantro and hot sauce.