While most of my childhood cuisine consisted of traditional Southern comfort food (my father was a Texan and I grew up in Arkansas), my Chinese-Vietnamese mother added some Asian flare to our menu so we could get a taste of her homeland from time to time.
Before it blew up into a street food craze, banh mi was a special treat in our home. My mother would load up on the tasty French-Vietnamese sandwiches from our local Asian market, and my brothers and I would tear through them like we’d never seen cured meats and pickled veggies on crusty French bread before — because, well, we hadn’t. Thanks, Mom.
Banh mi isn’t like your typical sub or hoagie-style sandwich. At what sub shop can you get a fresh-made sandwich with complex flavors and knockout ingredients for less than $2? The perfect banh mi combines just-baked, warm, crackly French baguette stuffed with layers of chilies or jalapenos, steamed and barbecued pork with fish sauce, pickled carrots and daikon radish, fresh cilantro and pork liver pate. It’s tangy, savory, crunchy and satisfying on so many levels.
Which is why, on most days at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant in Kansas City, Vietnam Cafe, you have to get your banh mi before early afternoon. Even though it’s not on the menu, the Vietnamese community and regular patrons know to order it fresh-baked, and the shop routinely sells out every day.
(You can ask the poor teacher man, who’s been slighted a few times when we’ve dined at VC for dinner and the beloved banh mi was all gone for the day).
Have you ever tried banh mi? What did you think? What are some of your favorite foods?
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