Life is like a box of chocolates…..
Growing up as a lad in New Zealand I became familiar with what we collectively referred to as 'a filled roll'.
At the time it seemed great. A flabby softish inoffensive white roll stuffed with lettuce, a bit of dead salad, probably some ham and a choice between butter or salad cream.
At the time I used to tuck in with gusto, blissfully unaware that I was committing a heinous gastronomic sin and even more unaware that in decades to come I would learn to appreciate decent bread, made properly.
Fast forward 8 years to Auckland City, where as a teenage apprentice chef I fell head over heels in love with proper French baguette.
Yes, there were places in Auckland that did French bakery properly, in spite of the issues with Greenpeace.
I then had a benchmark against which most other breads fell short for many moons thereafter
Moving to Australia I began to develop a fetish for crusty Italian bread, and as I threw myself giddily into the dark world of cheffing I began to realise how insipid and inferior the 'average loaf of white sliced bread' actually was, compared to 'real bread'
Rolls were even more of a contrast.
I dare you to eat sourdough, pugliese, baguette and ciabatta for a month, then go back to a bread diet of soft white hot dog rolls.
Now I laugh about it, and bread is a big part of both my professional and my personal life.
Banh mi thit is a far removed distant cousin of those nasty filled rolls I had as a kid.
It's a specialty of Vietnam's bustling streets and consists of an individual sized baguette roll.
It's a crusty, freshly baked pointed torpedo of bliss filled with whatever the vendor cares to offer.
Forrest Gump once famously mumbled "Life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you're going to get"
Forrest would LOVE banh mi thit, as the variety of fillings is staggering.
I'm fortunate enough to have a banh mi straight outside my front door (pronounced bun mee or as a short baan mee).
This is such a common street food here in Danang that I can only compare the average vendor to Thailand's "Som tam lady"
For me, a great banh mi has pate, roast or stewed pork, cucumber, ram leaf (vietnamese coriander) and some type of chilli, often a rich chilli paste.
Recently I've been getting off on paying an extra 5 cents to get a fried egg thrown in for good measure.
Vietnamese baguette is a little bit lighter than a traditional French baguette, and they go stale very quickly.
I'm talking 2 or 3 hours.
Our vendor does 2 shifts, from morning to lunch, then off for a break and back in the mid afternoon.
She gets a change of bread halfway through each shift, so the baguette rolls are always incredibly fresh and tasty.
They get a quick toast over charcoal so the sandwich always has a crackly delicious crust with soft white bread inside.
Banh mi is something that's easy to fall in love with. It's going to make me even more fat, but I'll die smiling.
September 2012: A quick update.
I've been in my house for a year and a half now, and the banh mi lady used to be a regular stop.
Not any more.
Mrs Chef-a-gogo now drops by the "banh mi thit heo quay" shop about 2km away for a REAL treat.
Thit heo quay means "roasted pork meat" – crispy suckling pig with tasty skin and crackling.
The crispy wee pigs get cut by cleaver, then chopped, weighed and served in baguette with fresh green local chillies, ram leaf.
Here's the photos, and I've added a link to the video of my sandwich being made below.
Here's a real time video of the roast pork banh mi shop on youtube. They get BUSY!
It's all over by 9.00am, so if you snooze, you lose!
Last but not least, below we have 'banh mi thit nuong' – or banh mi sandwich with bbq meat. This can be pork or beef, but for price and quality, it's more often pork.
Let me know if you have any requests in the comments section.
I live here in central Vietnam so it's too easy for me to quickly photograph or video something.
Our wet season started last night, so I'd better find something warm and filling to write about.
Have a great day.