Banh Mi – The Vietnamese Sandwich

You would often see banh mi on Saturday mornings in our household. My mom would stop by Ba-Le in Chinatown and pick up some sandwiches to eat at home for breakfast. One disappointing thing was that there was only a limited number of choices for filling: turkey or ham or both, with pate. So you can imagine how quickly I got tired of it. This website lists the many filling options for traditional banh mi.

Thanks to the large Hmong population in the Twin Cities, there is an abundance of Vietnamese restaurants in both St. Paul and Minneapolis. Everyone has their favorite, but my favorite is Saigon Restaurant in St. Paul. Saigon has a good variety of banh mi sandwiches. My favorite has a combination of xiu mai (meatballs) and grilled pork. It recently relocated kitty corner to its previous location. I have not been to the new location yet, but hopefully it is cleaner and the food is still as great!

Although Saigon is located only a mile from my workplace, I feel some guilt about spending $3-$4 for a delicious banh mi instead of bringing something from home. So my solution to filling my banh mi craving was to make my own!

The idea is courtesy of Viet World Kitchen and the recipe, Sunday Nite Dinner. Viet World Kitchen is my go-to source for anything Vietnamese. In a post about banh mi incarnations, Andrea Nguyen of VKW recommends using the Vietnamese Pulled Pork recipe from SND as the filling for banh mi. She also provides the recipe for pickled daikon and carrots that is a must in all banh mi.

We tweaked the pulled pork recipe since we were using a smaller roast and we wanted to put it in the slow cooker, rather than roast it. Leaving the oven on for 4-5 hours seems like a major waste of electricity, compared to plugging in  a crock pot for 6-8 hours, set on low. Maybe I’m wrong. But I don’t need the extra heat in my apartment, that’s for sure.

We made the basting liquid and placed it in the crock pot with the pork roast. Also, we used Kewpie (Japanese mayo) instead of the jar of Hellmann’s mayo we had in our fridge. The Kewpie is creamier and a little bit tangier than its American counterpart. Plus, the only other thing we use Kewpie for is making spicy tuna sushi, so we needed to use it up.

The lemongrass caramel sauce that is supposed to go with the Vietnamese pulled pork was a little off putting at first. The caramel had a very burnt taste to it and the fish sauce was very prominent, more than I’d like. It seemed to mellow out later and went well with the pork. Upon covering it up to go to the fridge, I strained out all the lemongrass, shallots, and peppers from the sauce. Even though the lemongrass was minced, there were a few pieces that were hard to swallow, and I figured at that point all the flavors have been extracted.

We put the filling into some bollillo rolls. We threw the rolls into an oven heated to 350 degrees for a few minutes to get a nice crust. In the end, it was a decent attempt at banh mi. It did take a lot more effort than driving to Saigon, but I’ve got leftovers for the rest of the week. I think next time, I will try making a simpler meat filling – one that I can whip out in less than an hour.

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