BUY ME A BANH MI

banh mi sandwichFor years, I've been toying with this million-dollar idea: 1-800-sandwich, an emergency sandwich hotline of sorts. "What's that? You need a turkey sandwich? And you say you don't have French honey mustard, artisanal whole grain or any green apple slices at all? We'll be right there."

Obviously, a few things have undermined this venture: seamless web already exists and other specialist purveyors, such as insomnia cookies, have been drinking the water. But the banh mi (pronounced "bun me", like a command) seems to evoke special urgency. This classic Vietnamese sandwich certainly has no shortage of fans. "In New York, 2009 is starting to look like the Year of the Banh Mi", wrote Julia Moskin in the New York Times, where she offers a layer-by-layer sandwich breakdown as well as an interactive map of banh mi purveyors in the city. Echoing this springtime enthusiasm, New York Magazine recently asked "Is the humble Vietnamese hoagie poised to become New York’s No. 1 sandwich?" Its banh mi timeline looks back "over two years of bánh mì buzz".

This locus swarm is perhaps what prompted Tom Colicchio, a celebrity chef, to say, "Everyone keeps talking about bahn mi. It's like Bahn mi. Banh mi. Banh mi. I'm so over Banh mi. We've already been there done that with barbeque pork and pulled pork." Hm, sounds like Tom just likes saying "bahn mi" (just kidding, I love you Top Chef). But the ripples of the street-food trend have finally reached us regular folk, penetrating staid diets of falafel and fish tacos.

For those of you who don't gaze at sandwich diagrams all day, the banh mi is composed of layers of meats--pâté, cured and uncured pork (though chicken or tofu can be used instead, which is what I prefer)--combined with cilantro, chillies, cooling pickled vegetables and mayonnaise. It's a colonial marriage of French classic tastes with the spicy, cool, sour, and sweet contrasts of Asian cooking. And it usually costs five dollars or less.

But no interactive dining feature will prepare you for the fine experience of wolfing one down on a warm spring night--crackling bread, tear-inducing chillies, moist chicken, addictively pickled daikon, and toothy sprigs of cilantro, that attention-demanding mistress.

If 1-800-sandwich ever took off, banh mi would be the obvious catalyst. Its combination of rare exotic flavours and hand-held readiness certainly warrant a sandwich emergency.
 

~ ARIEL RAMCHANDANI

Photo Credit: stu_spivack (via Flickr)