Banh mi (Renee G)

A bite of glorious banh mi
A bite of glorious banh mi

The suburb we reside in is famous for its Asian cuisine, and we have so many lunch options that it can be difficult to chose on any one day. But the local Banh Mi shop is a great go-to option, and provides the inspiration for a food that, for me, says a lot about the wonderful melting pot of cultures that Australia is. And nothing says fusion cuisine quite like the Banh Mi. Vietnam’s history is complex and goes back thousands of years, but the key to the Banh Mi came in the early 1800s when local tribal leaders were causing disruptions to the trade with the western world. The French used this as an excuse to invade in 1858, but it took several battles before French Indochina was established in 1887. The occupying force ate sandwiches made simply of butter and pate swiped liberally onto a baguette. Vietnam was temporarily held by the Japanese during WWII, and afterwards the French ruled again but it was not peaceful with the First Indochina War in late 1946. Much later and with much fuss, the French left in 1954 leaving behind a fractured Vietnam. The warring continued with the Second Indochina War, more commonly known as the Vietnam War, from1954 to1973. During this fractious period, the local cooks took the French baguette with butter and pate and fused it with local cuisine to create the sandwich that some say is the world’s greatest – the Banh Mi.

Banh Mi might just mean ‘wheat’ in Vietnamese, but for most of the world, it refers to the baguette filled with pate, mayonnaise, pork, and fresh vegetables, such as cucumber, carrots (often pickled), chilli, and of course coriander.

Ingredients for Banh mi
Ingredients for Banh mi

This version is a simple one that we take to soccer practice for dinner. No3 has his practice from 4.30 to 5.30, although thanks to work commitments and the time it takes to collect everyone we never manage to get there before 5pm. No1 and No2 play in the same team, mostly for our own convenience, and their practice is on the same day from 6 to 7. By then, the two smaller people are completely starving, or in the words of No4 “so, so, so, so, so hungry”. So I always pack sandwiches to take as dinner for them, and we have a little picnic in the freezing winter weather. Banh Mi are great sandwiches to have for these occasions as they can be made earlier in the day and eaten cold, yet have the full balance of bread, meat and vegetables without the downside of sogginess.

No1 and No2 eat theirs in the car on the way home, which means we can arrive home with full tummies, a car filled with crumbs and stinky soccer socks. Once home we fire everyone into the bath/shower before getting them into bed and retiring to a peaceful glass of “refreshment”, aka a glass of wine.

6am – Because we needed these for dinner at soccer practice, and because getting to soccer is complete madness, I usually make these in the morning. Early, I know, but this is sometimes what it takes to organise and feed this many people. This recipe takes about 15 minutes. Normal people can make these for a Sunday lunch and be slightly more relaxed about the whole process.

Filling the banh mi
Filling the banh mi

Banh mi

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

Filling

  • Pork sausages (one per person)

Banh Mi

  • Lettuce
  • Coriander
  • Spring Onion
  • Carrots
  • Cucumber
  • Pate
  • Mayonnaise
  • Buns (one per person) Chili

How to cook

Start with the sausages, as the rest can be made while these are cooking. To make really simple Banh Mi, I fry up pork sausages and put them in a container to cool down. I usually slice the sausages in half lengthwise after cooking them, as they fit in the sandwich better. Traditional Banh Mi uses cold, cooked pork meats, and sausages are an easier option than making a terrine or pork belly.

How to prepare

Get out your knives! Finely slice all the vegetable ingredients into lengths, placing each one onto a separate plate. Traditional Banh Mi often include a further step here that pickles the carrots, adding more eastern flavours. Using fresh carrots is faster, so I do that.

An essential part to creating a Banh Mi is the bread. Choose a baguette style roll that is crispy on the outside and very soft inside – the contrast is the key. An added advantage is that this type of roll will keep its shape all day, and because the contents of the sandwich are not soggy, it will still be fresh when you finally get to eat it.

Slice the roll almost in half and smear one half with pate and the other half with mayonnaise. You should have almost equal quantities of lettuce and coriander leaves, and perhaps half a carrot and half a cucumber per sandwich. Place the lettuce, then carrot and cucumber on each bun. Sprinkle over the spring onion, then pile on the coriander leaves.

We add the cold sausages to the Banh Mi at soccer, because if you add them hot to the sandwich, then let the whole thing cool down, the vegetables go a little bit slimy.

If you like it hot, sprinkle chopped chili over the finished product.

Picnic wrapped and ready for practise
Picnic wrapped and ready for practice

How to serve

I wrap each sandwich in baking paper to help them stay together in the container, and serve them by adding the cold sausage. The kids eat them right out of the paper, just like a real takeaway.

No. 3 eating dinner while supporting the team
No. 3 eating dinner while supporting the team
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