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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Game, Set, Match

This is it, patient reader: the end of the Banh Mi line. It was a great run filled with dizzying highs, woeful lows, and delicious BBQ-stuffed paté-primed baguettes. But all good things must end, even at The Porkchop Express, and we wanted to close this chapter with a bang. An informative bang. So here are some helpful tidbits to keep you game-tight.

What Makes a Good Banh Mi?
  1. Good centerpiece. This holds true for whatever they stuff inside: nem nủớng (roast pork), cá mòi (sardines), (chicken), et al. The sandwich gets funk in its trunk from the main ingredient; as it goes, so goes your Banh Mi.
  2. Minimal gnarly meats. Banh Mi makers can sometimes overdo it with pork roll, bologna, pig-belly “ham,” fatback, head cheese, and all sorts of opaque, globular, loafish concoctions. This may help lube the lower intestine, but flavor-wise, a little goes a long way.
  3. Not-too-sweet pickles. It's no secret: a good Banh Mi is all about balance. Shredded daikon and carrot pickle should be sharp, sweet and sour, to compliment the meat. Lazy renditions taste like they were soaked in sugar water which, in addition to tasting gross, also turns mayo into corn syrup.
  4. Fresh Accoutrements. Like cilantro. And crisp chili slices. And firm cucumber wedges. This should be a no-brainer, considering how essential the element of crunch is to a delicious Banh Mi attack. But some sandwich makers are suspect produce pickers. Cheapos have even been known to skip the chilies entirely, instead doubling up on sriracha sauce.
  5. Fresh toasted bread. Ironically, nothing beats me down like a limp, soggy loaf. And in the 21st century, there’s really no excuse for not knowing how to work a toaster. The Banh Mi starts with the baguette, and it's gotta be hot and crusty but not too dry, able to cradle the ingredients without collapsing under pressure.
Where can I find the best Banh Mi in New York?
  • In Brooklyn, our vote goes to Ba Xuyên. Great selection, consistent quality, and delicious sandwiches make this an establishment worth visiting.
  • Our overall favorite was Manhattan's finest, Bánh Mì Saigon Bakery. The city's second-oldest Banh Mi merchant, they keep it simple (with two sandwiches) and... simply delicious. Hands-down the best roast BBQ in town.
I don't speak Vietnamese. Does that matter?
  • Not if you grab our handy wallet-sized reference card (below).

And on that note... we're serving up 3 final exposés on the oldest, the newest, and the most expensive Banh Mi joints in NYC. Take a gander, and stay tuned. Porkier pastures await!

Til Tuesday,

–J. Slab

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