I used to purchase my bánh mi from a counter at the back of what was formerly known as Bonanza Market just on the border (the really dodgy side) of Vancouver’s Chinatown. These French-influenced Vietnamese sandwiches were $2.50 each, a veritable bargain, and I always chose the meatball one because it seemed like the “safe” choice. Each light, airy, short baguette was stuffed to the brim with a large, crushed meatball and those delectable pickled carrot and daikon shreds; I think it’s these pickles that really make this sandwich. I was such a brat back then, only wanting to eat a meatball báhn mi each time my family made their way to Chinatown.
That shop is still there and the counter has remained as well but it’s no longer called Bonanza . Prices have gone up to $2.75 but they’re still a good deal nonetheless. On my last visit, I asked about the sauce that was being shaken overtop just before being wrapped up, having always thought that it was some kind of Vietnamese fish sauce. To my surprise, from a cupboard behind her she pulled out a large bottle of Maggi seasoning!
I have no idea where to purchase bánh mi in London. I’m not often in the east, where most of the Vietnamese restaurants congregate, so I cannot recommend one place or another. However, they’re so easy to make that I think I’ll stop looking for them!
Vietnamese Carrot and Daikon Pickles
adapted from Viet World Kitchen
Enough for sandwiches for 2.
1 large carrot
5 inch length of daikon
0.5 tsp salt
1 tbsp + 1 tsp white sugar
3 tbsps white vinegar
2 tbsps water
Julienne the carrot and daikon to approximately 1/8 inch thickness and 5 inch lengths. They don’t have to be perfect! Place in a large bowl and sprinkle over the salt and 1 tsp sugar. Massage this mixture for about 3 minutes – when the time’s up, you’ll notice a puddle of water at the bottom of the bowl. Rinse the vegetables with cold water and drain thoroughly.
Stir together the rest of the sugar with the vinegar and water. Pour over the drained vegetables. Set aside for 1 hour minimum before serving – store in the fridge if not using immediately. A warning – cut daikon stinks. It really smells but it doesn’t taste as it smells – honest! I’d store this in a glass jar if I were you.
Due to the difficulty in finding plain ol’ white vinegar in the UK, I used distilled malt vinegar – looks the same but smells different. The pickles are not only good on sandwiches but also as you’d eat any other pickle. They would taste delicious as an addition to cold noodles.
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Now to put together your sandwiches! This is bánh mi as I remember it from that little counter in Vancouver. For each sandwich, you’re going to want a small baguette or French roll. Slice in half (but not all the way), rip out some of the insides if you wish (gives a better bread to filling ratio), and schmear mayonnaise inside. Close the roll and heat it in an oven until warm and crusty. Fill with your choice of filling – I used some German hams that I had in my fridge. Distribute pickles on top; I like lots and lots of them! Lay a few sprigs of cilantro on top and shake on Maggi seasoning (soy sauce will do in a pinch). Eat!
Other possible fillings: ham, pork pate, grilled pork, grilled chicken, crushed pork meatballs, fried tofu, sliced cucumber, sliced raw jalapenos.