Savoury, spicy, tangy, crunchy, fresh – all elements of the perfect banh mi sandwich. It honestly has to be one of my favourite sandwiches out there, ever since the first moment I took a bite of one. A few months ago, my husband and I had the opportunity to travel to Vietnam – the birthplace of the banh mi. Sadly, travel all around the world is on hold for the time being due to COVID-19. But if you wanted to escape for a bit or plan for your eventual travel, I’ve written a couple guides on Vietnam that you can find here and here. And in the meantime, you can recreate the flavours of Vietnam in your own home through this recipe!
Fun facts: “Bánh Mì” in Vietnamese means bread. While French colonists introduced the Vietnamese to the baguette in the 1860s, this popular street food wasn’t created until the 1950s, when it eventually became a staple food. It originated in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), but anyone who has traveled to Vietnam will tell you that the best banh mi can actually be found in Hoi An.
I may not be Vietnamese, but having been eating this sandwich for years, I definitely have my thoughts on what goes into making the perfect banh mi. And today, I’m sharing those with you. Keep scrolling to the end for the recipe.
1. Toast your Baguette
Don’t loaf around! One of the most important elements of a banh mi sandwich is the bread – specifically, baguette. You must (and I repeat, MUST) toast your baguette because part of the experience of eating a banh mi is the crunch! In terms of size, it’s not recommended to buy a long French-style baguette from the grocery or a bakery. Instead, look for the smaller size baguettes which are juuuuuuusst right.
2. Get the Bread to Ingredient Ratio Right
It is also very, very, very important to remove some of the bread from in the middle of the baguette because the correct bread-to-ingredient ratio is key. Think of the bread as your vessel for the sandwich and to provide a beautiful crunch (point #1 above). But too much of it and the flavours of some of the other ingredients may be lost. Remove some of the inside after you’ve toasted the bread and have let it cool. Instead of discarding, you can find other ways to use the insides (e.g. croutons, bread pudding, or maybe to dip in cheese fondue).
3. Make Your Own Char Siu Pork
This may sound like a laborious task, but it really isn’t. Making char siu pork at home doesn’t take long, and you only need a few ingredients, which you probably already have in your pantry. Plus, the pork can be consumed on its own or with other things later.
4. Pickle Your Own Veg
A banh mi isn’t really a banh mi without pickled carrot and daikon (called “Đồ Chua” in Vietnamese). If you aren’t familiar with daikon, it’s a Chinese or Japanese radish that can be found at your local grocery store or Asian food store. Pickled carrot and daikon will last in your fridge for several weeks, can be used on other things, and are good for your gut health!
5. Maggi Sauce!
When my husband and I were in Vietnam, we went on a hunt for the best banh mi in Hoi An (you can read all about that here). There was this certain je ne sais quoi about the winning sandwich – this wonderful umami that we couldn’t quiet put our fingers on. We saw a brown sauce being slathered on the bread when being prepared, but we didn’t know what it was. The answer came from watching Andrea Nguyen’s YouTube video on banh mi, where she revealed that Maggi sauce is the secret weapon! Maggi is a brand of dark brown seasoning sauce and it is delicious. If you can’t find Maggi sauce at your supermarket or Asian food store, there are similar products you can use instead. Bonus tip: use Sir Kensington’s mayonnaise, specifically, on your bread and apply the Maggi sauce over top. Sir Kensington’s is so much more flavourful than any other mayo I’ve tried.
Dive right into to this sandwich when you’re done, or wrap with some parchment paper and twine for a picnic later! Here is the full recipe.
Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwich Recipe
- 4 small baguettes
- 1 pork tenderloin you can use boneless, flattened chicken thighs instead of pork
- 1 large carrot julienned or cut into long strips
- 1 large daikon julienned or cut into long strips
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup + 3 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp. sesame oil
- 4 tbsp. maple syrup you can use honey, if you don't have maple syrup
- 4 tbsp. Hoisin sauce
- 3 tbsp. dark soy sauce
- 4 tsp. five spice powder
- 3 cloves garlic crushed
- 1 tbsp. white pepper you can use black pepper, if you don't have white pepper
- 2 jalapeño peppers cut into thin round slices
- 3 small red chili peppers diced into small rounds
- mayonnaise I like to use Sir Kensington's for extra flavour
- Maggi sauce
- To make the Char Siu Pork: in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine 3 tbsp. rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, maple syrup, Hoisin sauce, soy sauce, five spice powder, garlic, and pepper. Whisk together well and heat through until warm. Remove from the stove and let cool. Once cooled, pour 3/4 of marinade over pork tenderloin (either in a Ziploc bag or large metal bowl that you can cover with cling wrap), using your hands to rub the marinade all over the pork and coat it evenly. Place in the fridge and let marinate for no less than 2 hours (overnight is best). Keep the rest of the marinade for baking the pork.
- To make the pickled carrot & daikon (Đồ chua): peel the daikon and carrot and cut into long matchsticks. Place in a large metal bowl and add 2 tbsp. of salt. Toss with your hands for a few minutes, until the veggies begin to release water and you can bend a piece of daikon without breaking it. Rinse well and pat/let dry. In the meantime, combine 1 cup of water, 1 cup of granulated sugar and 1 cup of rice vinegar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir to combine and heat through until sugar dissolves. Place daikon and carrot in one or more mason jars and fill with pickling liquid. Place in refrigerator for no less than 2 hours.
- When ready to bake, place your marinated pork on a wire rack on top of a baking tray that has been lined with parchment paper or foil (to prevent mess). Add to oven preheated to 375 °F and bake for a total of 30 minutes. Flip the pork half way through and brush with more of your marinade. After 30 minutes, brush pork with more marinade and broil for 5 minutes (flipping halfway through). Once finished, put pork aside to stand for 10 minutes. Slice thinly when you're ready to assemble your banh mi.
- To make the banh mi: toast your baguettes whole on a baking tray in an oven preheated to 325 °F for 5 minutes. Remove and let cool. Slice open, but do not cut in half all the way through (in other words, you want to leave the top and bottom of the bread connected by a small hinge). Using your hands, remove some of the insides of the bread on both sides.
- When you're ready to assemble your banh mi, brush both sides of each baguette with mayonnaise, douse both sides with Maggi sauce, and begin to layer with a generous amount of sliced pork, pickled veg, jalapeño peppers, chili peppers, and cilantro. Enjoy!
Thưởng thức bữa ăn (enjoy your meal)!