I had heard about the Vietnamese sandwich called banh mi for a couple of years now. Food bloggers wrote rapturously about it, but to be honest I couldn't understand how they could be THAT great. It's just a sandwich, right? On the day I spent by myself in Vancouver while David was at his conference I found myself wandering around Chinatown at lunch time and I saw the sign for "Kim Saigon Sandwiches" on Main and decided that eating a banh mi in the feels-like-spring sunshine on a bench at the Sun Yat Sen Garden would be the perfect break. I ordered the ham and pate sandwich and it was still warm and crusty after I'd made my short walk to the garden.
At the first bite I finally understood and I felt an obsession growing. Why was it that good? I don't know, but it was amazing. The bread had a lot to do with it. The sandwich is on a french style baguette made with rice flour as well as wheat which makes it light and crunchy on the outside and so soft on the inside. Then there were the sweet/sour lightly pickled carrots and daikon, the cilantro, the onions and the condiments which included mayonnaise, something clear sprinkled on and what may have been Maggi seasoning sauce. It all just came together perfectly and I started making plans to move back to Vancouver immediately. I lived there for a few years, but I didn't know about banh mi then...what a fool I was. When David and I met up at the hotel in the late afternoon while he got ready to go to the the wining and dining portion of his event I went on and on about my sandwich, and he didn't really understand how it could be that good, so the next day we ended up there again and decided to sit and have lunch at the attached restaurant, the Golden Garden. David took one bite of his chicken banh mi and he understood what I'd been saying.
We also shared a banh xeo, which is sort of a very crispy crepe filled with prawns, chicken, mung beans and sprouts that you break into pieces, wrap in lettuce leaves with some basil, cucumber and pickled carrot and daikon and dip in nuoc mam, that tasty Vietnamese dipping sauce that comes with many of the dishes. Oh so good. It was another dish I'd read about and wanted to try and it was exactly as delicious as I'd hoped it would be.
Since moving to Vancouver is pretty unlikely to happen, we did the next best thing and went to a couple of Vietnamese grocery stores and stocked up on some ingredients that we just can't find here, including coffee making supplies. We had our first Vietnamese coffee in January and immediately went on a quest through our fairly large Chinatown and the big asian grocer for the supplies so we could make them at home, but couldn't find what we needed. In Vancouver we also got some other ingredients that I'd seen mentioned on my favourite Vietnamese food/cooking blog, Viet World Kitchen. I've always loved to eat Vietnamese food in restaurants, but I've just started cooking it at home, so this blog has really taught me a lot about both food and Viet culture.
Tonight with my new ingredients I'm making a green papaya salad with prawns and I think on the weekend I'm going to tackle homemade pho using Andrea's recipe. I'm sure it won't replace the pho we enjoy out on a regular basis, but I know it will be good.
And aren't the colours and images on the packaging so very beautiful? This little packet of five spice powder with the deer on it may never get used as I just like to look at it so much.