Bánh Mì the second time around

The website is called The Battle of the Bánh Mì, which is obviously a bad pun (“bad pun” being redundant, of course). But there’s more to the name than just the pun. The word “battle” is not insignificant, because it is a battle of the taste buds to see which of the several thousand variations of this simple sandwich is the best.

Why all the love for a simple sandwich? The Greasy Skillet calls it “a sandwich I could marry.” M. says it’s the best sandwich she’s ever had, which is high praise, given that we live down the road from the Choice City Deli, home of maybe the biggest and best Reuben you’ll ever find (centered around a foot-high pile of bison pastrami). One the one hand, it is just a sandwich. But on the other … oh what a sandwich it is.

Take your classic American BBQ, with tangy sauce on succulent meat, accented with sour pickles or relish … and then put that on steroids. That’s the bánh mì for you. No, that’s not quite right, because this isn’t an over-powering meal. Just a near perfect combination of flavors that you’ll never get tired of trying.

Last month we made our first excursion into bánh mì territory, trying out a meatball version, using this Jeanne Thiel Kelley recipe. That sandwich was so good, I really doubted that there was any room for improvement. But making the grilled pork version has convinced me that there can’t possibly be a wrong way to make this sandwich. Both the meatball and grilled pork versions called for fish sauce, which I omitted. Instead, I added a couple of squirts of Sriracha to the marinade, which brightened it up without scaring off my wife’s western Nebraska sensibilities.

I followed a different recipe for pickling the veggies, and both ways came out great. My only recommendation would be to follow the one that you think is easiest in terms of containers and storage space. The first time, I used nothing but vinegar, sugar, and salt. The second version called for a warm water solution with a little bit less vinegar, a little bit less sugar, and the same amount of salt. It simply comes down to, would you rather save a couple of cents using less of the ingredients if it means the extra step of filling a container with water? It’s really a toss up.

My recommendation: give this version a shot, and then look around at The Battle of the Bánh Mì and see which direction you can take it.


Pork chops, loin, or shoulder works. I used a one pound pork loin, marinaded overnight in the following. An hour or so before cooking, I sliced the pork into super-thin medallions and returned it to the marinade. Then I pan-fried it with a light spray of olive oil.

2 tsp brown sugar (white sugar is fine)
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 of an onion or 1-2 shallots, chopped fine
1/3 – 1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbs sesame seed oil
fresh ground pepper
a shot or two of Sriracha

Marinate in an non-reactive container for at least one hour, up to 24 hours before cooking.

I sliced the pork super thin and only needed 1-2 minutes per side on medium high heat. You can do this ahead of time and then warm it up in the oven before assembling your sandwich, or make this the last step before everyone sits down to eat, or a combination like we did: grill the meat, transfer to a baking sheet and cover and keep in the oven until chow time.

Pickled veggies: Lots of options here.

One daikon block, peeled and chopped into matchsticks
2 carrots, peeled and chopped into matchsticks
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped into strips

2-3 cups warm water, depending on the size of your container

3 Tbs vinegar (rice, cider, white wine, etc)

2-3 Tbs sugar (less if you like sour pickles, more if you like sweet … duh!)

2 Tbs sea or kosher salt

Measure cold water and nuke it for a minute or two. (Never cook with hot water from the tap … picks up too many contaminants along the way.) Add the sugar and salt and stir until dissolved, then add the vinegar. Pour over the veggies in an air-tight container and store for at least an hour (I did mine overnight again).

Sandwich time!

High quality rolls, warmed in the oven for a few minutes.

Mix 2 Tbs mayo with a shot or two of Sriracha, mix, and spread on the bread.

Layer your meat and pickled veggies. Sprinkle with finely chopped cilantro. Eat and enjoy!

For our side dish, we made this wonderful salad from Molly Wizenberg at Bon Appètit. A very simple combination of celery root, fennel, and apple (she used Gala, but I’m addicted to HoneyCrisps), matchsticked, with a Dijon mustard vinaigrette. On paper, it sounds like way too much going on at once, but the earthy yet crisp and clean salad went perfectly with the tangy / spicy / sour sandwiches.

Hope you give this a shot, either as a pair or by themselves.

About SAO'

Dad to two amazing girls, husband to one.
This entry was posted in Greasy, pork, sammiches, Sriracha. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Bánh Mì the second time around

  1. muddywaters says:

    Out of all the recipes I tried this year, the Banh Mi was my favorite. I'm eager to try the meatball variety you posted. At some point I expect to see a bastardized version of this on a Subway menu.I'm excited that you highlighted Molly's recipe. I'm always looking for good, healthy, quick, and interesting salad, especially for summer. I didn't know if I'd like this recipe. With your endorsement, I'll give it a shot.

  2. muddywaters says:

    Don't be afraid of the fish sauce. While it smells like dirty socks, it takes the sandwich to an entire other level. Kristin hates fish and the smell of the sauce isn't appealing to her, but she loves it with this sandwich. I also use fish sauce for Mark Bittman's Spicy Noodles, which is a go-to recipe when I want something quick and easy. When I went to the Asian market here, they had about a dozen brands. Some had chunks of fish – scales and other debris – in the sauce. I opted for something more appealing to my American senses. I went with Squid brand, which can be found in most grocery story. Thai House also makes a good sauce.

  3. Pingback: Chicken Bành Mì | highplainsdrifters

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