Bánh Mì (Click on the dots below to see photos)
Bánh Mì (Click on the dots below to see photos)
Last month, when my husband and I traveled back to Asia, we spent a good chunk of our journey in Vietnam. Vietnam is a stunningly beautiful country with scenic mountains and beaches, but our main objective was to sample the food. Traveling to such a far-off place where I can’t speak the language can be intimidating, but we were fortunate to have help from our chef friend Owen, who spends half the year managing a kitchen in the midcoast and the other half working in restaurants in Hanoi. So with his meticulously written itinerary, we set out to find his favorite restaurants and food stands from Hanoi to Da Nang. We were not disappointed!

Vietnam has an incredibly rich culture with a long history of colonization that’s most visible in the country’s extraordinary French-style architecture as well as its cuisine. While it’s not as glamorous as sitting in a cafe in Paris, sitting and sweating on little plastic stools next to heavy Hanoi traffic in the humid 100-degree weather while eating the iconic Vietnamese sandwich (aka bánh mì) is, oddly enough, an extremely pleasurable experience.

And in many ways, the Bánh Mì is a reflection of Vietnam’s complex cultural history — Chinese barbecue wrapped in a French baguette and piling it up with their own fresh ingredients. This is the first installment of my recipe series on how to make Vietnamese street food with local Maine ingredients.

Ingredients:

(Serves 4 to 5 people)
For the BBQ pork:
1 lb. pork tenderloin
2 tsp. minced ginger
1 garlic clove, minced
2 Tbsp. honey
4 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. oyster sauce
14 tsp. black pepper
14 tsp. Chinese five spice
1 Tbsp. red yeast rice (optional)
For the pickle:
2 carrots
1 kohlrabi
114 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
For the sweet mayonnaise:
3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. olive oil
4 to 5 French baguette rolls
2 cucumbers
2 scallions
1 jalapeño pepper
handful of cilantro
12 cup chicken liver pate

Directions:

To make a classic barbecue pork Bánh Mì, the barbecue marinade is very important. But luckily it’s really easy. I did not realize that the barbecue pork is actually a Vietnamese version of a Chinese char siu pork. Char siu pork is usually a bright pink color, traditionally dyed with red yeast rice, which is what I’m using in this recipe. While you can find red yeast rice at most Chinese grocery stores, it doesn’t add much flavor, so you can skip this step if you don’t have it. Most Chinese restaurants now use red food coloring to get the pink color anyway.

To marinate the pork, mix all of the ingredients and cover. Let it marinate over night. (photo 1)

Once the pork has marinated, roll it up and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. Double the wrap and secure it with butcher’s twine or an elastic band. (photos 2 & 3)

Now steam the pork for an hour. If your pork is bigger, you’ll need to steam it for longer. Once the pork is cooked, keep it in the plastic wrap and chill it in the refrigerator for at least three hours. (photo 4)

Meanwhile, prepare the pickles. Cut the carrots and kohlrabi into thin sticks. Toss them in a teaspoon of salt and let them sit for 30 minutes. (photo 5) This will allow the carrots and kohlrabi to sweat out some water and make the pickles nice and crunchy. Traditionally the pickles are made with carrots and green papaya, but since green papayas are hard to get around here, I’ve found that kohlrabi makes a great substitute as it tastes really similar and has the same texture.

After 30 minutes, rinse and drain the carrots and kohlrabi sticks and mix in the remaining ingredients. You may add in a few dried chili flakes to add some heat. Keep it in the refrigerator until you need to use it.

One of the condiments in Bánh Mì is Vietnamese-style French mayonnaise. If you’ve tasted Asian mayonnaise before, you’ve probably noticed that it’s a lot lighter and sweeter than the mayonnaise here. You can find Asian mayonnaise in most Asian grocery stores or you can take regular mayonnaise and make it taste like Asian mayonnaise by whisking in honey and olive oil.

Once the pork is chilled, unwrap it and slice it thinly. (photo 6)

Vietnamese baguettes are a little different from the classic French baguette. They have a unique, chewy texture and are a little less crusty. I’ll be sharing my Vietnamese baguette recipe in the column next time.

To assemble, prepare fresh cucumber, jalapeños, scallions and cilantro along with the pork, pickles, mayonnaise and liver paté. (photo 7) Make sure to use a plain paté without any herbs in it. Vietnamese paté is made with chicken liver and minced pork and I will be sharing my recipe for it in the next few weeks, as well.

Smear the sweet mayonnaise on one side of the bun and the paté on the other side. (photo 8)

Stuff the roll with all of the remaining ingredients and top it off with your favorite hot sauce.

For more recipes, visit www.thewayriceshouldbe.blogspot.com.