“Bahn Mi” are those fantastic sandwiches you’ll find at some Vietnamese restaurants. They come in as many varieties as there are other kinds of sandwiches, and can be considered the sub, hoagie or po-boy of the Vietnamese. Like any other sandwich, the combinations of ingredients are infinite, but certain things make bahn mi stand out as, well, bahn mi. A perusal of any decent Asian market can provide you with an enormous quantity of different ingredients, in varying price ranges.
Not everyone has easy access to Asian markets, and I know I can’t always be bothered to take the trip myself, and sometimes I just don’t have the budget for the authentic foods that I’ve loved so much since childhood, so I’ve managed to come up with a number of “ghetto” solutions to this problem. The following constitutes my typical sort of workaround for a lack of “standard” ingredients, while still managing to convince myself that it’s bahn mi and not a hoagie. I’m not a food snob at all, which you’ll know if you’ve seen my chicken casserole recipe, but sometimes I just want what I want.
First off, you’ll need bread. Bahn mi are made with French bread, usually baguettes, although pistolettes come in a close second. If all your local grocery store has is hoagie rolls or sub buns, hey, good enough. Although it’s not a requirement, I like to toast it in the oven for a few minutes (sliced lengthwise). Watch it closely, as it burns easily! Burnt sandwiches are only good when you’re drunk!
As for stuffing that bad boy, you have a lot of meat options, while still technically being able to call it bahn mi (at least in my opinion). Salami, ham, any kind of “loaf” type of lunch meat, meatballs (preferably sliced), even seafood, like shrimp. I’ve made smoked sausage bahn mi and been applauded for the fine “Asian” cuisine.
Common condiments include mayonnaise, hollandaise (yes, some people use hollandaise), and Sriracha hot sauce, my favorite for bahn mi being Sriracha mayo. I put fish sauce on a bahn mi once, just to see what would happen, and I strongly advise against it. Sriracha is so popular now that you can find it in almost any grocery store, but if you can’t find it anywhere, any sort of non-watery sauce made with chili peppers will work fine.
Most really nice bahn mi have a cocktail of marinated veggies on them, but we’re going ghetto, so throw a couple of sliced pickles on it if you want. Spicy pickles actually rock any sandwich, in my opinion. Cucumber and cilantro are a MUST. You can make it without cilantro, if you have to, but if at all possible, get some. It’s fairly cheap, and produce sections everywhere have it, as it’s also used in some Mexican foods. If you can’t at least find a cucumber, just make a damned ham sandwich or something and call it a day. Julienne-cut carrots sprinkled on the top are a nice touch. Oh, and I almost forgot! Jalapenos. I prefer fresh green chilies myself, julienned, but just about everyone else puts sliced jalapenos on bahn mi.
Now, to assemble the sammich, put your condiments on the bottom half of your bread (it’s just tidier that way), followed by the meats (it’s always better with 2 or 3 different meats) and veggies, splatter it up with Sriracha (if you can take it, I can) and enjoy! Notice I left out the cheese. Bahn mi do not, in my experience, ever have cheese, but if you’re really adventurous I guess you could try it. I have not, so I can’t vouch for it.
Note: If you want to make something closer to the real thing, try some Vietnamese salami or some of those funky meatballs from the Asian market (you know, the ones that you can’t tell what they are other than that they’re possibly made out of some kind of meat), Chinese sausage (I’ll eat the entire package without bread if I’m not careful, that stuff is addictive) or even slice up some fish balls. Yes, I said fish balls. Other, more ghetto options I’ve tried include bologna, pickle loaf and head cheese (yummy as all get out), all of which work fine when you’re poor or in a pinch.
So there you go, now make some bahn mi already!