Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Street Food Series: Vietnam's Banh Mi Sandwiches and More...


Southeast Asia is a snacker's paradise, and the one country that holds dear to my heart when it comes to food and family is Vietnam. My husband's from Sóc Trăng, a province in the Mekong Delta in Southern Vietnam. We were lucky to go visit his family in 2004, and during the trip we were exposed to a frenzy of exotic foods. Other than the amazing and elaborate meals we had at the family table with all his extended relatives, the best eating experiences were had by hitting the streets. Before sunrise, produce markets swell with people. Women were seen stoking kitchen fires and filling flat baskets with tin steamers and arranging soup or fresh spring roll ingredients; these baskets were then hung on both ends of bamboo poles and hoisted upon their shoulders as they hustle their goods to the flood of passerbys. Others set up shop with a simple table, cooking ingredients and equipment surround, serving their offerings to hungry customers who would crowd around make-shift plastic tables to eat. 

A vendor selling pho taken outside my hotel window in Ho Chi Minh City.

Taking in the pleasures of the midday sun.

Beautiful and fragrant display of fresh exotic Asian fruit at one of many fruit stands.

Enjoying popular tri-coloured bean (Chè ba màu) dessert in a night stall with new friends Cang and Mai!

Colonial rule has left its mark on Vietnamese cuisine with mini French baguettes sold widely on street corners- modified by bakeries in the region to a light, white baguette-roll with a crispy crust, and filled into sub sandwiches as a hearty lunch or snack. And we all know how delicious, cheap and cheerful these Vietnamese (banh mi) sandwiches are with its contrasting colours, taste and textures. Fillings range from Vietnamese pâté to ham, cooked sausages and grilled meats, alone or in combination, and includes cucumbers, pickled daikon and carrot shreds, fresh herbs and chilies. Instead of prepared meats, and for a different spin on the ubiquitous pâté and ham filling, I am making a homemade version with thin pork chops, adding fish sauce and lemongrass, and grilled in coconut oil for full-on Southeast flavours, and even making the crunchy sweet and sour radish and carrot pickles from scratch. Very easy to do and makes a great side addition to other Asian meals.


Radish and Carrot Pickles (to fill a 3-cup jar)

1 medium radish, cut into sticks
1 large carrot, cut into sticks
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup sugar
½ cup warm water
½ cup rice vinegar
½ cup white vinegar

NOTE: Make up to two days ahead before using for the flavours to meld.

Sprinkle radish with some salt. Rub with hands and set aside for 10 minutes. Squeeze water from radish. Place radish in bowl, fill with water, rinse, drain and squeeze dry. Dissolve salt and sugar in warm water placed into a clean 3-cup jar. Fill with remaining ingredients, and add radish and carrots. Liquid should cover the top of vegetables. Can keep refrigerated for one month.

Grilled Lemongrass Pork Chops in Coconut Oil

4 pork chops, thinly sliced is preferred (with or without bone)
2 Tbsp. lemongrass, fresh white part minced only, or store-bought frozen chopped, thawed
2 Tbsp. fish sauce
1 tsp. sugar
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. coconut oil for cooking

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, and generously rub the mixture all over the pork; refrigerate for two hours or overnight for the flavours to meld. Cook on a hot grill pan with coconut oil on medium high heat for a few minutes on both sides until seared and cooked through. Remove onto plate to cool slightly before removing bones and slicing.

The thinner the pork chop cut the more flavourful the meat, even thinner than this is better.

Banh Mi with Grilled Lemongrass Pork Chops

Vietnamese French baguettes, sliced lengthwise but keeping baguettes intact
1/4 cup mayonnaise mixed with 1 minced garlic and 1 tsp. maggi or soy sauce
Grilled lemongrass pork chops, thinly sliced
Radish and carrot pickles (see below)
Cucumber, thinly sliced
Red onions, thinly sliced
Cilantro sprigs with leaves and/or other fresh herbs such as chives or Thai basil leaves
Chilli peppers, sliced or sambal oelek chili sauce
lime wedges 

Assemble and enjoy cold or warm. If there’s a toaster oven nearby, pop it in and heat for a few minutes at 300F for an extra toasty crunch and warm taste. Serving suggestions: shrimp chips and guava juice.



A fresh, tasty and healthy meal option you can customize differently over and over again. Get creative!

For other street food specialties from Vietnam, from left to right, try my recipes for: Banh Xeo (Vietnamese stuffed crepes), Vietnamese Fresh Shrimps and Pork Salad Rolls and Vietnamese Pork Loaf and Noodle Salad.


Cheers to great street eats from Vietnam!

Up next, Malaysian Oyster Omelet...one of Malaysia's favourite hawker foods indeed...


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