Good evening Vietnam: Banh mi thit

En route to Australia last year, we stopped in Singapore for three nights. Although neither of us is much of a shopper, we decided we had to pay at least a cursory visit to the infamous Orchard Road. Ash, having been to Singapore once before, knew that there were plenty of hawker centres (food courts) to be found on the long road, so we thought we’d get the journey over and done with one morning and set off for some shopping and breakfast. What we didn’t realise was that the Orchard Road proprietors like a lie-in and that nothing actually opens until mid-morning, least of all the hawker centres. Hungry and fed up, we eventually happened upon a more Westernised food court with an open Vietnamese café, which is where we had our first encounter with the banh mi, or Vietnamese sandwich. Goodness knows how authentic it was, given that it was served in an air-conditioned shopping mall in Singapore rather than the streets of Vietnam, but we enjoyed it, so decided to recreate it.

Vietnamese banh mi breakfast in Singapore
(Hopefully you’ll agree that our version of this – below – looks nicer!)

Strictly speaking, the banh mi probably isn’t very authentically Vietnamese no matter where it’s served, with its strong French influences in the form of baguette and pâté, and in fact the first banh mi was apparently exactly that: butter and pâté on a baguette. It is a product of the French colonisation of the region rather than a meal with thousands of years of Vietnamese history, but it has nonetheless become synonymous with Vietnamese culinary culture. If the proof didn’t already exist, a French-Vietnamese food fusion probably wouldn’t be an obvious success, but somehow the combination of French bread and pâté with fresh Vietnamese ingredients like coriander and pickled carrots just works.

In creating our own banh mi thit (‘thit’ means meat), we took inspiration from multiple recipes we found online, tweaking them a little along the way, but sticking with the fairly standard formula of pâté, pork and vegetables. With the exception of the bread, we made everything from scratch, but you could just as easily (well, more easily, actually) make this with store-bought mayonnaise and pâté. The recipes below are in the order we made them.

Recipe from Viet World Kitchen.

2 egg yolks
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
2 tsp rice vinegar
1 cup vegetable oil

1. Put everything except the oil in a food processor. Pulse 4 or 5 times to combine.
2. Run the food processor and pour the oil through the feed tube in a thin (less than 1/4 inch wide), steady stream until completely incorporated. This should take 2-3 minutes.
3. Transfer to an airtight container, cover and refrigerate until needed.
Makes about 1 cup, so more than you need for a couple of sandwiches, but it’s delicious mayonnaise and can be used wherever you’d normally use Hellman’s.

Pickled carrot
Recipe from SBS Food. Traditionally, this pickle should also include daikon radish, but we just used carrot.

1/3 cup white vinegar
1/3 cup white sugar
1 large carrot, peeled and julienned

1. Heat vinegar and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved.
2. Put carrot in a bowl, pour vinegar mixture over the top, add 1 tsp of salt and stir to combine. Stand until cool, then discard the liquid and refrigerate until needed.
Makes enough for two banh mi.

Vietnamese Pâté
Recipe from The Ravenous Couple (sounds like us, haha).

1 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup water
220g chicken liver
220g pork mince
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tbsp salt
A generous amount of freshly ground black pepper
1 small garlic clove, peeled
1 tbsp brandy

1. Preheat oven to 180C.
2. Combine the bread crumbs with the water. (We made our bread crumbs in the mill part of the food processor and they came out VERY fine. The end result of the pâté was ever so slightly dry, and we think some coarser bread crumbs may have prevented this.)
3. Put everything in a food processor and slowly mix until smooth.
4. Add the mixture to an appropriately sized ovenproof dish and bake for about 30 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. (As someone who does a lot of baking, doing this to a ‘meat cake’ was totally bizarre.) Allow to cool at least a bit before assembling your banh mi.
Makes about 500g – way too much for two banh mi, but leftovers are ideal for a day-after picnic!

Uncooked pate

Lemongrass pork
SBS Food again – as is everything else from here on in.

125 pork mince
1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp light brown sugar (our substitute for the more typical palm sugar, which we didn’t have)
3 tsp fish sauce
2 tsp soy sauce
1/2 lemongrass stalk, green part reserved, white part finely chopped
1 small garlic clove, crushed
2 tsp vegetable oil

1. Knead the mince and salt in a bowl until smooth. Working with two batches, gather a ball of mince and throw it back into the bowl, repeating for 2 minutes to tenderise.
2. Add sugar, fish sauce, soy, lemongrass and garlic and mix well to combine.
3. Halve the reserved lemongrass and shape the pork mixture around each piece to make two pork ‘kebabs’. (We ran into trouble here as the mixture was way too wet to shape, somehow. We managed to squish it around the lemongrass stalks but there was no way we were going to be able to grill it as per the next step of the recipe without it falling apart, so we had to solve this problem by pan-frying it. Thus…)
4. Pan-fry in the oil until golden and cooked through, and set aside.
Makes enough for 2 banh mi

Pork kebabs

Banh mi assembly

Everything from above, plus…
2 Vietnamese baguettes (we just bought a long French stick and portioned it)
About 1/3 of a cucumber, cut into batons, seeds removed
1/2 cup coriander sprigs
2 spring onions, green part only, sliced
1 red bird’s eye chilli, sliced (optional)

1. Split the baguettes open and spread with mayonnaise and pâté.
2. Cut the pork kebabs in half lengthways and divide among baguettes.
3. Add pickled carrot, cucumber, coriander and spring onion.
4. Season if desired and sprinkle with the chilli to serve.
Serves 2

Banh mi ingredients

Banh mi

Banh mi

On reflection:
– Homemade mayo: yum. And this recipe seemed foolproof, which (speaking from experience) is not true of all mayonnaise recipes.
– We’re quite amused that the first time we made pâté from scratch, it was for a Vietnamese recipe rather than a French one, but were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was. It doesn’t look terribly appetising (either before or after cooking), but the flavour makes up for it.
– If we made the pork again, we’d probably see what it was like with one less teaspoon of fish sauce, as the mixture was so wet and quite strongly fish sauce-flavoured (although this was counterbalanced with the other elements of the completed sandwich).
– Ash thinks this wasn’t enough food for an evening meal.
– The chilli garnish is definitely optional. We had that lovely burning-lips feeling at the end of the meal, but ‘lovely’ is subjective.

Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have a picnic of leftover baguette and pâté to eat…

3 thoughts on “Good evening Vietnam: Banh mi thit

  1. Pingback: Another rainy ‘BBQ': Cambodian beef and coleslaw | Good Food on Bad Plates

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