I hate people who are not serious about their meals. -- Oscar Wilde

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Banh Mi Saigon Bakery- and Jewerly Shop

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: Sometimes when I am in the mood for a Banh mi, I also want some jade jewelry

The first time that I had a banh mi sandwich was in the exotic and mysterious location of Toronto. I was in High School on vacation with my parents and like all Asians in a foreign land, we “stumbled” upon the Chinatown. The Toronto Chinatown has a high Vietnamese population and this one shop was plagued with people which of course even at a young non-culinary age keened my interest. In this shop was a line of old women churning out ba minh sandwiches assembly line style that would make Henry Ford proud. There was no menu, you just told them how many you wanted and that was it. I bought one and after the first bite, I knew I was hooked. The rest of my family was hooked as well that an hour before we were due to go to the airport, we quickly rushed back to this shop before departing to buy a couple of sandwiches to munch on the plane. 

 Only dilemma you have here is if you buy a sandwich first or a bracelet.

Since then, banh mi sandwiches got smacked with the trendy stick and have been popping up everywhere. I mean a turkey and cheese hoagie? So 90s. The New York Times published a recently written article in which describes what banh mi sandwiches are and some of the top places to get banh mi. I am a fan of the New York Times food section but this time, they straight up failed me. Some of the top places they named in New York City were Baoguette and Momofuku Ssam bar. First off, ssam bar has not served a banh mi in ages and the closest you can get  a banh mi from the Momofuku group is terrine one that is at Ma Peche and Baoguette is a uber chain that makes an alright quality banh mi and does a descent job given the 20 million restaurants Mr. Bao is opening. The article disappoints me because publication such as the Times, that is an authority in the food world, has given such outdated and subpar suggestions and in turn just discredits such a delectable creation. 
The banh mi is the result of Colonialism. When the French were chilling in Indochina (aka Vietnam and surrounding area) they got sick of eating pho and kindly "suggested" the Vietnamese to start making baguettes and then the Vietnamese added their own stuff to it, pretty much the filling of meat and pickled vegetables and this banh mi was created. Banh mi sandwiches are now easily found in New York but one shop that like and I generally use as a comparison to other banh mi sandwiches is Banh Mi Saigon Bakery that started it all.

Banh Mi Saigon defines hole in the wall originally located on Mott Street and if you did not know about it, you would walk by it. Even walking inside the original shop you were not sure you were in a sandwich shop, because Banh Mi Saigon is also a jewelry shop which is perfect for I cannot count the times I was hungry and the urge to buy jewelry. Banh Mi Saigon has cornered that market. Couple of months ago, Banh Mi Saigon has moved its location around the corner onto Grand St and the space is much bigger, has side counter and stools where you could actually sit and eat a sandwich but the jewelry glass counter is still there, just in case you may of forgotten your girlfriend's birthday and need a quick pick up and got the munchies.

They could be killing Leprechauns for all I care behind that counter, as long as I get a tasty Banh Mi I am good

Their menu has the same and offering the basics such as pork, pate and meatballs. Though pork is my go to meat in anything, I decidedly changed it up and went with the chicken and the pate cha. All of the banh mi sandwiches are dressed with a base coat of mayo, pickled radishes, carrots and cucumbers, a layer of Vietnamese cold cut/head cheese, fish sauce and the ubiquitous sprigs of cilantro (cilantro haters can ask this not to be included). Sometimes they go a bit overboard with the cilantro to a point I am picking some of it out but I think that cilantro is a key element to any banh mi giving it a refreshing taste to the sandwich.

Pate Cha, look at the layers!

 The Pate Cha is a good schmear of pate and with an extra thick layer of Vietnamese cold cuts/headcheese. I have yet to really identify the makings of the cold cuts but from what I can tell, it most definitely pork based. It tastes good so I really never bothered to go Upton Sinclair on this and figure out the composition of the meat. The pate is brightly colored, rich and flavorful and offsets the pickled vegetables. All the banh mi you can get from not spicy to very spicy and I am a fan of heat so I go with the very spicy. Although you do not have to get the very spicy, I think getting a bit of heat in the sandwich livens up the sandwich a bit more, but to each their own.

I'll have the chicken!
Pork is my usual go to option the chicken banh mi is a great choice. They use the dark meat that ensures juiciness and they grill it that it has little char bits which give the sandwich a bit of an extra crunch. Like any sandwich, the bread is a very important factor. The rolls at banh mi Saigon are toasted, giving that extra crunch and deceptively lightening a filling sandwich. The internals of the roll is denser and does not have the traditional aeration pockets that a French baguette has, however I in the case of a banh mi, this works to the sandwich’s advantage because it is able to soak up all the juices from the grilled meats and pickling juices and combat sandwich sogginess. The rolls I have found to be a bit inconsistent in which sometimes it is too dense or the bread to be over toasted and scrape the roof of your mouth like eating Captain Crunch.

Banh Mi Saigon is one of the first to set up shop in New York and start the wave of banh mi shops opening up in the city. Even with other competitors opening up around the block and around the city easing the trek to Chinatown the Banh Mi Saigon is still holding its own with people lining up and munching down on some tasty banh mi. I still have yet, to see anyone buy any jewelry unfortunately.

 Banh Mi Saigon Bakery
198 Grand Street 
New York, NY 10013 

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