You know a food item has gone mainstream when it’s picked up by the “fast casual” restaurant market. That time may be arriving for one of the most intriguing—and in big, food-centric cities, one of the most popular—dishes of Vietnamese cuisine, the banh mi sandwich.
Like many Vietnamese dishes, it’s a blend of French and native cuisines, in its most traditional form a mélange of paté, roast pork and Vietnamese-style pork sausage or “pork roll,” all slapped onto a baguette (more on that later) with pickled carrots and daikon, cilantro, mayonnaise and Maggi seasoning. The baguette is another of those cross-cultural things, made with a mix of wheat and rice flours that gives the finished product a thin, crackling-crisp crust but very light, soft and airy insides.
Not long ago, Boca’s 5-Spice Asian Street Market (1200 Yamato Rd., 561/989-1688) put the banh mi on their menu, both in its traditional version and more Western-friendly versions with roasted pork or grilled chicken.
Of course, I had to go check it out, and while it’s not quite on the level of the banh mi’s I remember from my favorite Vietnamese joints in San Francisco, it’s a quite tasty, palatable rendition that will hopefully give this delectable sammie a higher local profile.
The only deviations from the classic banh mi I could see were a lack of mayo and substitution of Chinese roast pork for the more typical pork belly. Though I do prefer the traditional version, neither was a deal breaker, and even in its present form it delivers the range of sweet, tangy, meaty, herbal flavors so characteristic of the cuisine of Vietnam.
My recommendation: ask for mayo and add a few squirts of Sriracha at the table. They add richness, a bit of heat and help tame the livery-ness of the paté. At the introductory price of $5.99, it’s a pretty good deal. And it wipes the floor with your boring old ham ‘n’ cheese.