Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Bahn Mí - 1

So I accidentally started this Tour de Bánh Mì.
(See below for "what IS a bánh mì?")†

A couple of years ago I dragged my poor, (at the time, heat shy) innocent son & NC cousin to a báhn mì joint barely a mile from my house (iSandwich 14525 Aurora Ave N, Shoreline, WA).  Good sandwiches, good bread, large slices of jalapeño peppers.

To this day, my now 10 yr old still remembers it as "the 1st time I ate a jalapeño."  (I am lucky that he sees it as a challenge, rather than "I'll never touch spicy food again" moment.)

But then… recently I was on a supply trip up to one of my "local*" Trader Joe's, when hungry, tiny breakfast, "excuse", been-seeing-this-sign-for-last-6-years-and-can't-stand-the-curiosity ANY LONGER, I finally decide to stop in at Yeh Yeh's Vietnamese Sandwiches.

One bite in to that lightly chewy and gently crispy bread, all I could think was "WHY?  Why did I wait so long?" These are really good sandwiches.

Got this far, and realized… whoops
need a snap.

Sure, they cost more than a full meal deal, but here the spiced fries come with curry ketchup.  The bread is that lovely crispy/soft cross, there is no skimping on the vegetables, there are plenty of sauces to choose from (sriracha, red wine vinegar, mystery dark sweet smokey) and the proteins are all tender and well seasoned. (That's right, even the tofu sandwich has oomph.  There is nothing to be gained by neglecting the Buddha and his followers.)

Then I became curious.
Is this the best báhn mì in town?

Given pointers, I stopped in at BooHan Plaza (Hwy 99 btw 225th & 226th) to check out Seattle Deli.
Good news - lots of good looking Vietnamese Pastry, rice noodle encased goodies and sweet rice in banana leaves.
Eeep!  Stuck for a moment when I see the báhn miì names are all in Vietnamese.  Well, having not memorized… I went with the 1st two guessing they were the most popular.  Bingo.  Thit nuong (w/ accents I can't find on my computer) is grilled pork and gá is chicken.  The grilled pork was a very tough thin sort rib slice but the chicken was OK.
(For information on how to NOT look like an idiot when ordering bánh mì - and pho for that matter, go check out  Especially "How to Say Bánh Mì" and "Tips on ordering Pho" and "How to Order Pho in Vietnamese")

I'll say, it was pretty tasty, but the bread was pretty hard - crumble and fall apart rather than crispy and chewy.

And the veggies weren't up to par.

Next stop…
Saigon Deli (1237 S Jackson St. -btw S. 12th Ave and S Boren Ave)

Holey Cow!  Now this place has PASTRY… and other food.  And boba and hot food ready to go.
But I'm just here for the sandwich.
Grilled Pork, Char Sui (Red BBQ) Pork and a Xui Mai ("shu my" - meat ball)

Sigh… the char sui was REALLY salty and dry.  The xui mai was very soft, a bit like chopped paté.  And the regular BBQ pork was not bad.  The bread again was hard and brittle, rather than crispy and chewy.  But what made me miss that Yeh Yeh's sandwich was the very scant amount of pickled veg. on top.

So after a couple of disappointments I headed back north, and looked carefully at what impressed me so much the first time.

1) The bread - it is a fluffy yet chewy bread.  They toast it so the crust is crisp, and the bread is warmed, but not so much the bread scrapes your mouth and crumbles.

2) The vegetables - there is a nice stack of pickled daikon and carrots along with the sliced jalapeños and herbs.  And those carrot and daikon threads are lightly pickled with a splash of sweet and chili heat.

3) The meat - every sandwich I've ordered has had plenty of protein on it, and they have been tender and flavorful.  The char sui pork is meaty and flavorful, not salty.  And it has been braising so it is also moist and fall-apart tender in the sandwich.  The chicken was moist and well flavored, the classic grilled pork was the 1st sandwich I had.  The one that knocked my socks off the 1st time.

So - best bánh mì in town?  Not sure, but while I'll keep checking around, I'll also be making regular visits to make sure they don't slack off.

†What's all the fuss?  Bánh Mì ("bunh mee"  I've been saying "bAHn" with that short "ā" for awhile, and everyone was to polite to correct me - or tired of correcting in general) is basically a Vietnamese style submarine sandwich.  They come on a short baguette (of a sort the French would roll their eyes at - but never mind that) slit down one side and stuffed with meat - mostly pork variations (or grilled tofu), a few slices of jalapeño pepper (in the US) a few fresh herbs (mostly cilantro/coriander leaf) and a nice pile of shredded and lightly pickled carrot and daikon (those giant Japanese ones) radish.

They are everything I wished submarined sandwiches could be.  So skip the Subway, and grab and Bánh Mì instead.
*Ha!  I live at a nexus of 3 stores all a little too far away.  So I just go to the one closest to the rest of my errands.

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