Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Quest for the Perfect Bánh Mì

I've decided to search this week and next for the perfect bánh mì, a classic French-Vietnamese sandwich filled with multicultural goodness. Here's a description of the sandwich from the New York Times:
If you haven’t tried a classic banh mi, imagine all the cool, salty, crunchy, moist and hot contrasts of a really great bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. Then add a funky undertone of pork liver and fermented anchovy, a gust of fresh coriander and screaming top notes of spice, sweetness and tang. 
Introduced to Vietnam by the French in the early 20th century, the first banh mi (pronounced BUN-mee) were just bread, butter and ham or pâté — the traditional, minimal Parisian sandwich. “Then, the Saigonese made things interesting,” said Andrea Nguyen, a writer and food historian, referring to the riot of garnishes that lifts the sandwich from good to genius. The banh mi popular in America are in the style of Saigon — now Ho Chi Minh City, though most Vietnamese-American families, driven from the country in the 1960s and ’70s, during the war, stick to the old name. Stacked with variations on cured and cooked pork, green herbs, sweet pickled vegetables, sliced chili peppers and at least a swipe of mayonnaise, banh mi are enfolded in a crisp, slim baguette. They are so rich in history, complex in flavor and full of contradictions that they make other sandwiches look dumb.
Enticing, nay? And Houston, with the world's third largest Vietnamese population outside Vietnam, is an excellent place to look.

P.S. My first stop was Don Cafe (which I hear is owned by a Memorial couple) at 9300 Bellaire Boulevard, where I ordered the barbecue pork and the ham and pâté sandwiches. I would have taken pictures had I not devoured them in all their crunchy happiness in record time.

P.P.S. If any fellow spring breakers in H-Town would like to join me on my quest, let me know when you're available.