Go to any Asian community and you are sure to find one of the top famous Vietnamese food item besides pho (beef noodle soup) and it is the beloved banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich), which is sold at small shops, food courts, and bakeries all over. This simple Vietnamese export is a delicious and inexpensive meal for under $5, plus it blends the best of both worlds- from the French and Vietnamese together. Under French Colonialism, the Vietnamese took the French’s simple sandwiches using bread, butter and simple pate (ground liver with spices), meats or cheese into a savory feast with their twist. Overall freshness matters with making a delicious banh mi sandwich: first take a crusty French bread (using rice flour for extra crunch), then slather the condiment-mayo, fish sauce (nuoc mam), or soy sauce based spread, next put on your desired protein: grilled pork, beef, chicken, fried egg as well as tofu or headcheese, veggies (cilantro, mint, basil, onions), chilies and pickled carrots and daikon for added crunch.
Boston’s own Chinatown has two places that sell banh mi. One is New Saigon Sandwich at 696 Washington St (Between Kneeland and LaGrange Streets 617-542-6296) in Chinatown across from Dumpling Cafe. They provide eight different sandwiches from the Vietnamese Cold Cut (banh mi thit), Shredded pork (banh mi bi), Teriyaki Beef (bo xao), BBQ Beef (bo nuong), Teriyaki Chicken (ga xao), Vegetarian Tofu (dau hu), Curry Chicken (ca ri ga) and Banh Mi Xiu Mai (Xiu Mai). Also there are a few box meals available if you are not in the mood for a banh mi.
One block away is 163 Vietnamese Sandwiches and Bubble Tea at 66 Harrison Avenue (617-542-7903), which also has a similar banh mi menu. But they have also offer bun (vermicelli), spring rolls and as well as a wide variety of boxed meals with a choice of rice or noodles topped with eel, bbq pork chop among a variety of tasty options. Also they have an extensive beverage menu with plenty fruit shakes (with or without bubbles (chewy tapioca pearls). At both shops, the most expensive banh mi is only $3.25 (even with tax!)
Now there is a food truck called Bon Me (www.bonmetruck.com) that sells banh mi as well from Monday through Fridays at Boston’s City Plaza from 11:30am-3pm in addition to going to other places all around the city. Don’t fret, you can also go to Kam Man’s food court in Quincy or go to Allston at Pho Viet at the Super88 food court too. Why not try a banh mi the next time you want something different from the ordinary ho hum peanut butter and jelly sandwich?