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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

BM2: Hot On The Trail

I haven’t read The Da Vinci Code, so I don’t know what Tom Hanks thinks he's up to in these stills. But he clearly loves sandwiches and, I would guess, spends the entire movie hunting for the most delicious sandwiches in New York City. The only time he stops is to comb his hair with... yup... a sandwich.

As chance would have it, that’s also how I spent last week. The result? Another installment of The Quest for the Best Banh Mi in New York City, a sequel even more eye-shattering than the original. I sampled both the best and (I hope) worst thus far, and learned three things in the process:

1) Nobody knows who invented the Banh Mi, or if they do they aren’t letting on. Is this what people mean when they say “the world changed after 9/11”? These days, it's hard to get straight answers about a sandwich. Someone confirmed the obvious hunch (French colonialists introduced the baguette to Indochine, and the Vietnamese added their own ingredients). But no one dared guess when this culinary lightning bolt first struck.

2) The two oldest Banh Mi merchants in New York went on record to state that they use the same baguettes in Vietnam. In other words, and contrary to last week's rumor, no rice flour in the mix. Another tidbit from the motherland? Individual-sized Banh Mi are often sliced to order from very long loaves.

3) The United Nations is no help. In uncovering the mysteries of international sandwiches, that is. Don’t get me wrong, I'm all for global peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance. But when it comes to sandwiches, these folks are pretty tight-lipped. Or so it seemed when I called the Permanent Mission of Vietnam to the U.N.

The woman who answered the phone thought I dialed the wrong number. We went back and forth (her: “no, we don’t sell sandwiches, I’m sorry”; me: “yes, but you have eaten sandwiches… in Vietnam, right?”). This was a lose-lose battle: suspicion, mistrust, and mild animosity set in almost immediately. The Secretary at the Permanent Mission of Vietnam thought I was a moron, and I thought she was hiding something.

She transferred me to a colleague one rung up the bureaucratic ladder. I broke down my Banh Mi mission and asked him a few questions. His response? Succinct: “don’t know, don’t care, and don’t have the time.”

I’m convinced the guy said this with a Banh Mi in each hand, and one in his desk drawer. I’ll take it a step further: I now believe his phone receiver was a Banh Mi, as was every doorknob and handrail in the office. They probably have a jazz quintet to greet dignitaries with instruments—drumsticks, vibraphone, trumpet, sax, and upright bass—made entirely of Banh Mi. I bet that guy does nothing all day except close his eyes, twirl, and bite, catching delicious Banh Mi flavors with every clamp of the jaw… because at the Permanent Mission of Vietnam to the U.N., Banh Mi fall from ceilings and spring from fountains.

Either way, sometimes the only course of action is to admit defeat. Such was my case: I had been bested by two diplomats, pros at the top of their game. As I set the phone down, a mixture of frustration and genuine admiration welled within. They withstood my toughest interrogation, and successfully guarded the secrets of the Banh Mi.

Well-played, emissaries of Vietnam. Well-played.

Down but not out, The Porkchop Express did the only thing that made sense: hit the road, combing the city for more Banh Mi tastings. Results below!

Til Tuesday,

–J. Slab

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