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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Banh 'Mai': Home-Made Vietnamese Sandwiches Rooted in Authenticity

Posted By on Wed, Sep 23, 2009 at 11:25 AM

Banh Mai's banh mi are available for bike delivery Weds. and Thurs. - J. BIRDSALL
  • J. Birdsall
  • Banh Mai's banh mi are available for bike delivery Weds. and Thurs.
Sure, we've all scarfed banh mi at Lee's, Saigon, and half a dozen other city spots where cheapness is part of the charm. Or all of the charm.

Mai Le seeks to make banh mi that tweak some chord in memory, both as a kid growing up in the Viet-Am community of Azusa (Southern Cali), and in the year she spent in Ho Chi Minh City. For the past two week, the Mission dweller and Fashionist blogger has been making and delivering banh mi based on her mom's recipes and the street experience she tasted in Vietnam, where each micro-'hood had its sandwich maker, and eating one was an act of hanging out with your neighbors as much as annihilating hunger.

click to enlarge Sandwiches are tied up in parchment, with pickled daikon and carrot on the side. - J. BIRDSALL
  • J. Birdsall
  • Sandwiches are tied up in parchment, with pickled daikon and carrot on the side.
"I was telling a friend that I really wanted to do authentic banh mi before the crazy explosion of street food began here," Le told us. She cites housemate pressure as one of the factors that caused her call her mom to request recipes and launch Banh Mai. The proper banh mi mayo. The right way to do the carrots and daikon (in Le's opinion, the most important part of the Vietnamese sandwich) - not grated, but cut into lithe strips on a Japanese mandolin slicer. She scores rolls (they contain a small proportion of rice flour) baked by Bui Phong bakery in San Jose. They're typical for Vietnamese sandwiches, but there's little else about Le's creations that's typical of sandwich-shop banh mi, including the $7 price.

We stopped by Le's flat last night to buy a few - she's making chicken banh mi this week. (The banh mi -- including vegan and vegetarian versions --- are available for delivery Weds. and Thu., between 11:so a.m. and 1:30 p.m.; pickups are possible. Follow Le's tweets to find out about minimums, and the how and when of ordering.)

The still-warm pâté was an adaptation of Le's mom's pork version: ground chicken and chicken livers, with a faintly yeasty shadow of fish sauce. Fantastic. The meat proper was chicken floss -- cha bon - boiled chicken shredded and cooked in a dry wok until chewy and slightly crisp. A huge handful of cilantro leaves and stems. Slivers of jalapeño.

The all-important pickled daikon-carrot mix came on the side, in a baggy -- we added it just before devouring in a nearby park, so the sandwiches wouldn't sog. Amazing. And, as far as we're concerned, worth every buck.

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