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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Bánh Mì Saigon Bakery

Kevin and Nina hail from from the Cholon section of Saigon, but they made their tastiest mark in Manhattan: 15 years ago, they opened the wonderful Bánh Mì Saigon Bakery.

In those days, a delicious Vietnamese sandwich was hard to find. BMSB was one of only two places that sold Banh Mi in the city. And their original storefront was tiny, tucked away on a sketchy side-street under the Manhattan Bridge, nestled amidst anonymous merchants and hidden behind walls of Fung Wah Buses.

Because the space didn’t fit more than five customers at a time, lines of hopeful sandwich-eaters usually snaked outside. The store also lacked a proper ventilation system, which worked in their favor: the wonderful scent of Banh Mi lured you in from 30 meters out. They sold only one type (the "Banh Mi Saigon"), and typically ran out by 2 pm.

Back then, only two words placed an order: how many Banh Mi, and what style (spicy or regular). Say your piece, step outside, wait a few minutes, and you would soon be in sandwich nirvana.

About a year ago, Bánh Mì Saigon Bakery relocated to a space on Mott Street which they share with a jeweler (Nina’s sister-in-law). Their new store is bigger and brighter, with two small benches handy for those who can’t wait to dig in.

That wonderful BBQ smell is no longer (sadly, they now have high-powered vents), and a Bánh Mì Gà (Chicken) was added to the menu. But aside from these minor details, not much has changed. This is still the best Banh Mi in town.

How good, you ask? Let me put it this way: Ms. Slab once converted to Vegetarianism for a few weeks, and it was this sandwich that brought her back to flavor country. Why? One reason and one reason only. She couldn't resist Saigon's delicious roast pork.

Not everyone puts slow-cooked BBQ, or Nem Nủớng, in their Banh Mi. But this is the heart, soul and strength of Kevin and Nina's sandwich. They pile their masterful meat on a hot crusty baguette spread with pâté, mayo, and a splash of sriracha sauce.

Just enough pork roll provides a note of calm, while crisp cucumber, top-notch daikon/carrot pickle, bushy stems of cilantro, and freshly sliced chilies supply the hot and cool.

Truth be told, this is far closer to a feast than a snack. And as sandwiches go, it is somewhat difficult to eat. Each Banh Mi is stuffed so full of goodness that savoring every flavor in a single bite presents a logistical challenge. You have to be creative and pick a strategy. One giant lunge? Two quick nibbles in rapid succession? Either will provide all the balance you might hope for in a Banh Mi. But you can also mix it up by concentrating on just the roast, or keeping things fresh with a clean bite of veggies.

No matter what you decide, pork – slow roasted in small batches to a deep crimson color and ecstatic heights of flavor – is the star of the show. Nina closely guards her formula, as well she should. It blows away the competition. It's also the main reason this modest store sells around 700 sandwiches a day (701 if I lived closer).

Take it from The Porkchop Express: this is one tempting package. Chewy, moist roast punctuated by hearty paté and fresh chiles. The pickle and coriander excite, while the mayo and pork roll soothe. A lifetime wrapped up in a few bites, and a labor of flavorful love, the pleasure of a Banh Mi Saigon will last far longer than the time it takes to consume.

So throw caution to the wind and give it a shot. And if you really don’t swing down Pork Avenue, consider the Chicken Bánh Mì Gà. They also have a nice light Shrimp salad, and an addictive beef jerky—dry, sweet and slightly spicy—that goes great with beer, chilled Beaujolais, or a really happy day.

Bánh Mì Saigon Bakery
138-01 Mott Street
Chinatown, New York, NY (212) 941-1541
Bánh Mì Saigon: $3.25

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Blogger Electron said...

Nice Blog :)

2:45 AM  
Blogger adam said...

Holy crap, what a sandwich. I got really lucky because they were out of banh mi expect one that was sitting there wrapped up in a bag on the counter. I guess someone ordered and abandoned it? Or is it always there? They were reluctant to let me have it, claiming, "It's spicy."

I'd never have tried that place without your tip, so thanks.

9:43 PM  
Blogger ElTigreDeLaCalle said...

Holy Crap dude....nasty

click here to see the processed meat

5:30 PM  
Blogger Zora said...

Thank you for your incredible thoroughness! It is a huge relief to me to have all these reviews in one place.

Banh Mi Saigon has branched out, you probably know. They've added a sardine sammie, and a meatball one. I tried the sardine, and it was good. But it was no pork, needless to say.

5:32 PM  
Blogger J. Slab said...

zora, thanks for stopping by. i'll post some pics of their new sandwiches with a write-up....

4:12 PM  
OpenID DaveCook said...

As hard as I try to find fascinating food in new places, you've got it pegged: the "Saigon pork" banh mi, spicy, is the best in New York.

1:01 AM  
Blogger J. Slab said...

yeah dave, they kill me with the pork kindness.

btw, if it's anyone's first time get one made to order. remember the cardinal banh mi rules, and don't settle for anything less than fresh...

10:25 PM  
Blogger zannah said...

I tried to go to Banh Mi Saigon Bakery a couple of weeks ago, and it seemed to have transformed into a non-banh-mi-selling drugstore. I was very, very sad. Can anyone else confirm that this shop has closed, or was I totally lost?

10:24 AM  
Blogger Bats said...

Hey, thanks for posting this recommendation! I was in NYC for a few days, and made a trip down to Chinatown to get a bánh mì xíu mại. I'll have to try their bánh mì Saigon next time I'm down!

11:35 PM  

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