Earlier this year I went on a trip to Vietnam. I travelled from South to North; going from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi and stopping in Hoi An and Da Nang on the way. The trip was really memorable, not just for the sights and the people, but especially for the food. In fact, food was pretty much at the forefront of my mind when I decided to travel there. That's right - I wanted to have an "authentic" Vietnamese food experience.
Even before we left, I was researching the best places to eat in each destination. Here in Sydney, everyone was (and still is) going crazy for Vietnamese Pork Rolls - Bánh Mì. The first time I tried one was on the recommendation of someone at work. Working in Ultimo, I was surrounded by pork roll vendors - each one slightly different, but all really tasty. And once I had tried one of these delicious rolls, it became a staple in my weekly lunch repertoire - and all for the bargain price of around $4.50 (my girlfriend tells me that her first Bánh Mì was a $3.50 roll at UNSW, which was a special uni price - she is also hooked).
I couldn't believe that I hadn't discovered Bánh Mì before - The French influences harmonising with the Asian flavours. Rich Pâté. Crusty baguette. Putting chilli and coriander in a sandwich! Totally makes sense.
So naturally, I was compelled to find the best Bánh Mì in Vietnam. Anthony Bourdain provided me with the answer. In his popular TV program "No Reservations" he was brought by his intrepid French business partner to what he believed was the most delicious Bánh Mì in the world. It was located in Hoi An and was being served from a tiny stall near the markets.
I found a blog online that mapped out the location of this Bánh Mì stall, and after wandering around the markets a few times, we spotted it. There were a lot of locals queueing up out the front - a very positive sign. And when I finally had a bite of this local delicacy, it certainly didn't disappoint.
All of the best sandwiches tend to feature some kind of pickle, and it's no different with Bánh Mì. They tend to include a very simple pickled carrot, and sometimes pickled daikon or white radish.
I've been having a bit of a daikon phase at the moment, probably because they're one of the only things in season! After the success of the Japanese style daikon pickle I was keen on using the vegetable again. So I made a Vietnamese style pickle which I could then use on my own homemade Bánh Mì.
For my homemade Bánh Mì I use slow cooked pork, rather than the standard lunch meat style pork that's normally used. The coconut juice and the five spice add an interesting fragrance to the meat. But I guess the question remains, "Is it worth making your own Bánh Mì?" Well, in terms of flavour and using up leftover daikon - Yes. But in terms of cost per sandwich - Hell No. Go here instead.
Homemade Bánh Mì
What you need:
- 1kg of pork belly;
- Daikon and carrot pickles (see recipe below)
- 350ml of young coconut juice (a can's worth);
- 1/4 cup of soy sauce;
- 2 tablespoons of sugar;
- 4 tablespoons of fish sauce;
- 1 tablespooon of chinese five spice powder;
- 1 stick of cimnamon;
- 1 star anise;
- Salt and pepper to taste;
- Bread rolls - try and get rolls from a Vietnamese bakery;
- Spring onion;
- Pâté - we just used the standard stuff you can find in supermarkets;
- 1 Cucumber, cut lengthways into long, thin strips;
- Sriracha Chilli Sauce;
- Lettuce leaves (optional).
- 2 birdseye chillis, finely chopped;
- 3 teaspoons of sugar;
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed;
- 1 tablespoon of fish sauce;
- The juice of one lime.
Making the Bánh Mì:
- The first step is making the slow cooked pork. Place the pork belly into a pot or slow cooker. Pour in the coconut juice, soy sauce, fish sauce and sugar. Bring the pot to the boil.
- Place in the cinammon and star anise, along with some salt and pepper, and then lower the temperature to a simmer (in a slow cooker, place it on low). Cook for 4 hours.
- The next step is making the sauce. Whisk the sugar with the lime juice and fish sauce until dissolved. Add the chilli and garlic into the sauce and stir.
- The order that I used to construct the Bánh Mì is:
- Pâté on one side of the roll;
- Mayonaise on the other side of the roll;
- Cucumber strip;
- Spring onions;
- Shredded pork;
- Daikon and Carrot pickles;
- Salad leaves;
- mint and coriander;
- drizzle with sauce.
Vietnamese Daikon and Carrot Pickles
What you need
- 2 large carrots, julienned;
- Around 500g of daikon, julienned (we used one large daikon);
- 1 tablespoon of salt;
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 1 1/2 cups of white vinegar;
- 1 cup of warm water;
- 2/3 cup of caster sugar.
- Put all the julienned carrot and daikon in a large bowl. Sprinkle a tablespoon of salt and a tablespoon of sugar over the vegetables, and then using your hands, mix them around, coating them in the salt and sugar. This will draw water out of carrot and daikon. Do this until the vegetables have softened and the daikon in particular is bendy (around 3-5 mins).
- Now, rinse off the vegetables in a colander thoroughly and then drain,
- In a bowl, mix the vinegar, sugar and water until the sugar has dissolved completely.
- Finally, add the daikon and carrot into sterilised jars, pour over the pickling brine and seal. They will be ready to use in a day or so.