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Food + Cooking

Behind the Recipe: Banh Mi

How one of our food editors created a bold-flavored Vietnamese sandwich using ingredients you can find in nearly any grocery store.
banh mi

I’ve been smitten with banh mi, the Vietnamese sandwiches, for years, and last spring I went on an eating tour of both of Seattle’s Little Saigons searching for the best one. The signature flavor profile of these incredibly savory sandwiches comes from the combination of meats or tofu with pickled vegetables, fresh cilantro, soy sauce, and fish sauce. I decided to try developing my own version for our Quick Kitchen section in this month’s issue.

Though a banh mi can be filled with sausage, meatballs, or ham, another signature ingredient is a kind of Vietnamese spicy pork pâté. In California and Seattle you can find it relatively easily, but in most other U.S. cities you’d have to go to a specialty market. Part of the “quick” in Quick Kitchen is that all the ingredients can be found in regular supermarkets, so I needed a readily available substitute that would give the sandwich the right flavor. Liverwurst, it turns out, brings the whole thing together.

In addition, I pickled the vegetables myself: Letting the daikon and carrot sit in vinegar with salt and sugar for 15 minutes is enough to do the trick. And for once, you’ll be thankful for those mediocre, soft supermarket baguettes, because too good a baguette doesn’t do the job here; it can’t be too chewy or crusty, since it gets toasted and would get too hard. Soft bread is just right.

Now whenever I have a craving for banh mi and can’t get to one of my favorite sandwich shops, I can make my own in minutes.

Can't make it to Little Saigon either? Try our recipe for Vietnamese chicken sandwiches.