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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Return to the 36th Chamber

Gordon Liu: “Master... I've made up my mind. I have to learn.”
Master: “There are 35 phases sandwiches, where would you like to start?”
Gordon Liu: “I'm not sure! Which one is the best?
Shaolin Master Killer (1978)

As an astronuclear brainologist, science comes easy. Why just today I “deduced” a few things that I might as well tell you about:
1) Of all the voices in my head, Stomach screams the loudest.
2) Stomach is borderline OCD (obsessive compulsive delicious) and, unlike Ms. Slab, encourages me to overeat.
3) Stomach has recently jumped back on the banh mi wagon.
What does this add up to? A return, good reader... to the 36th chamber.

For those out of the late-70s Kung Fu loop, let me explain. In Master Killer, Gordon Liu escapes a Manchu attack and heads to the Shaolin Temple, where he learns the storied Shaolin fighting technique. Instruction involves passing 35 “chambers” (everything from “carry razor-spiked water jugs up pyramid, then repeat 1,000 times” to “head-butt boxing bags” to “walk on water for bowl-of-rice dinner”). Liu succeeds with flying colors, then starts his own chamber: the 36th, namely... bringing Shaolin style to the people.

In that way, The Porkchop Express is a kindred spirit: we train and stumble, bumble and pursue, and never give up on our relentless search for delicious... to share our findings with you, inquisitive reader.

Not always without a struggle, tho. Take the Banh Mi. We found our favorites months ago, and had a hard time believing any brash NYC New Jack could top 'em. So why bother? Or so “Bad Cop” whispered in my ear. But “Good Cop”? Bless that positive bastard. He was whispering just as loud when I got the call from cycling enthusiast, magnanimous chap-about-town, and Time Out New York reporter Josh “Money” Bernstein, who invited me along to sample four new spots that had cropped up over the summer.

The only hitch? We set out on what proved to be the hottest day of the year and, not coincidentally, the least smart day to bike around. By 4pm, I wasn't quite sure where I lived, much less what I had eaten or how I was going to peel the shirt from my back. So I laid low for awhile... weeks, actually... until fate again intervened.

You see, friend, The Porkchop Express counts among it ranks some of the most flavor-savvy readers in the world. And it just so happened that a recent, illuminating email from Andrew “Woodward” Landry sparked my banh mi curiosity anew by clearing up a few heretofore murky banh mi mysteries.

As Landry put it, the American Banh Mi is a far cry from its Southeast Asian counterpart. And I quote, “the approach here is totally different”–bigger and heavier, “similar to what Chicago did with New York's thin crust pizza.” Even better, his explanation why this was so actually made sense:
fresh, light, airy Saigon baguettes are delivered at around 5 or 6 in the morning to all of the carts that sell Banh Mi and Banh Mi variants. But the bread isn't toasted (as it is at every place I've been to in NYC). It doesn't need to be toasted, as it has just arrived a few hours ago, and toasting would only ruin the delicate texture of the sandwich. Also, vendors have limited grill space in their outdoor carts, which they save for important things like pork. [Priorities! –ed.] It also stands to reason that people aren't as excited to have a hot toasted sandwich in a city that hovers around 90-100˚ (F).
The Vietnamese Banh Mi: a product of its environment if ever there was. France introduces the baguette; Vietnam puts its own light, crisp spin on the loaf; small merchants (with even smaller carts) post up on street corners, where they receive early morning bread deliveries; breakfast sandwiches are graced with porky goodness and the usual trimmings, and folks start the day with a delicious, non-sleep-inducing bang of a meal. Win-win-win-win, good reader.

So armed with some fresh perspective and knowledge of a few new spots, The Porkchop Express felt it as good a time as any to return to the 36th Chamber... to bring more Banh Mi goodness to the people. Stay tuned, friend. We'll be hangin' tough with a few new kids on the block. One this week below, to get things rolling.

Til Tuesday,

–J. Slab

» Thanks again to Bernstein & Landry. Catch Bernstein's musings in New York Press, Time Out New York, and here. As for Landry, he's probably eating a pork-based product as you read this. Oh, the humanity!


Blogger Gethsemene Rose said...

Look you got blog spam for your first comment LOL
Anyway I want to discuss Exotic foods (oh and I remember the 34 chambers movie on KungFu theatre channel 38 BOSTON)
What about HAGGIS the scottish games are this time of year and there are lots of good places to get Haggis these days.

11:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've got the sandwich fever bad too. I had my first one today at Nha Trang Palace and I'm going to search out more tomorrow.

7:59 PM  

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