Let’s get a few things out of the way: first, I have been simply unable to keep up with reading all of the great content that comes in on my Google Reader, what with school, work, maintaining two blogs, my relationship, and my friendships. And let’s not forget taking care of my dog… Anyway, the point is, I haven’t been reading, so the other day when I stumbled across this post on Midtown Lunch, and then this one… I almost passed out from excitement and knew I had to get over here as my last lunch before going (temporarily) meatless.
The other thing I have to get out of the way is that this post will be, aside from photographs, essentially useless to you (if you are familiar with banh mi). Why? Because I’ve never had a banh mi before in my life. I have no point of comparison. I have absolutely no idea if this is better than what you usually get at all the other lovely banh mi places in the city. Not a freaking clue.
I can tell you what it tasted like and if I liked it, though, so if you care, keep reading. If you don’t, just look at the pretty pictures.
Cuz there are a lot…
Oh, did I mention that the cart is parked on John Street, right off Water Street? That makes it right next to my gym. So after a nice run, I walked over to snag myself a banh mi. It was one of the coldest days this year, and super, super windy at that moment. See how there’s no line? An issue that many, many people complained about on other blogs? Don’t be fooled. These pictures were taken at 3:30, which is probably later than most of you would like to eat lunch. But hell, there was NO LINE. AT ALL. The guy in the picture got his sandwich as soon as I walked up, and I ordered.
LOOK. There is a phone number if you want to order ahead for pick-up. Don’t say I never did nothin’ for ya. 😉
Actually, I don’t know if I got a banh mi, cuz I don’t know what’s supposed to be in it. I ordered a #1, special baguette, for $5. Remember, it was super windy, so I can’t imagine how the little toaster oven they have could heat my sandwich. The guy making it seemed to keep checking it because he didn’t seem sure it was still on (I saw him put his hand against it a few times to check the temp). I timed the transaction; from ordering it to receiving my sandwich, it took 8 minutes.
And while I don’t want them to hate me at all, the younger guy – there were two in the cart – seemed really angry and not friendly at all. The older guy in the cart was happy to see me, and was chatting with me (about how windy it was, because I was jumping up and down trying to put my jacket back on but the wind kept blowing it). I don’t know, I’m kind of used to Asian people giving me the death stare for whatever reason, so maybe that’s what the younger guy was doing, but seriously, I’m a customer, get over it, I know. Ok? Thanks. (Without getting lecture-y on it, it’s a phenomenon known as Asian Stare.)
Who cares about that! I took it back to my office – a 10 minute walk away – to examine, photograph, and inhale. It was still warm, though I felt a little condensation so worried it might be soggy.
No… it was not soggy. I can’t identify any of the meats on this sandwich.
I can tell you, however, that the bread was lightly crispy from being toasted on the outside, and the inside was still soft, creating a perfect bite-able sandwich.
(One of my pet peeves is rock hard sandwiches that you bite into and everything immediately shoots out the other end and you’re left squishing everything back in with your fingers.)
The sandwich was very flavorful, with lots of seasonings and toppings, pickled veggies, hot sauce (only a little for my sensitive palate), a few hot peppers (he asked me if I wanted it spicy and I said “just a little bit”), …
pate, which added a smoky, creamy finish to the sandwich at the end of each bite.
Loads of veggies, some meats…
Is that bacon or roast pork I see? Seriously? Can anyone please tell me what I was eating?
The verdict is that I like banh mi and I really want to go try more from different places. I had wanted my first banh mi to be from StB‘s favorite place, but you can’t always pick your firsts that carefully, you know. In any case, I’m glad this was my first, because I really enjoyed it and definitely want to eat more of these in the future.
In fact, I went back a few days later (the next time I was at the gym) for a vegetarian baguette (a friend of mine informed me that it is not banh mi if it doesn’t have meat on it; I don’t know if she was being, y’know, jokingly snotty or just matter-of-fact, as she’s Vietnamese), $5.
This time, it only took 6 minutes from ordering to completion. I don’t know if that was because they got better, or it wasn’t as cold out, or because they started closing the window while they were making it, or if the vegetarian sandwich just takes less time. (Same guy, again, same death stare, but the older man seemed to recognize me as he smiled at me and made chitchat briefly.)
It was still warm when I got back to my desk, but something crazy had gone down at work while I’d been running at the gym, so it was another hour before I got to eat it. I could barely sit still to take pictures, it smelled so delicious – like pickled veggies, which I love – and the bread was still slightly warm. Same deal – crisp exterior with soft interior, allowing me to bite easily into the sandwich without it crumbling all over my desk, without all the innards squishing right out. Mmm, this was really damn good.
There was butter (or lard?) on the sandwich, pickled veggies, cucumber, caramelized onion, cilantro… a little hot sauce, pepper, etc. But the best part, or the funniest part – and this ties into me going meatless – I took a few bites and then suddenly FREAKED OUT that there was meat in it. I mean, I tasted meat! (but I have also picked up the habit of eating and then halfway through eating, getting this irrational panic that there’s meat in whatever I’m eating, which makes NO sense because aside from the banh mis, I’ve been pretty much eating food I’ve cooked – WITHOUT MEAT…) I opened up the sandwich and the brown stuff looked vaguely like meatstuffs, so I was getting really upset and picked some of it up and bit it. Tasted MEATY. What the hell! I said VEGETARIAN…! I started pulling it out and biting into little bits here and there just to make sure when suddenly, it dawned on me.
Mushrooms cooked in butter with the onions. DUH. Hahahaha, I’m an f-tard.
I also went back to try the grilled eel baguette. After the gym. Hey, why not?
At $7, it is hands-down the most expensive item on their menu. I wondered if it was anything special. What makes it worthy of the banh mi cart?
Grilled eel (probably frozen, easily purchased at an Asian supermarket for $5-7 for a decent sized slab); cilantro, cucumbers, pickled veggies, optional hot peppers, some butter or lard schmeared on…
Okay. It was tasty – I am loving the bread, crispy and yet soft enough to bite into without hurting myself (I have this severe aversion to certain crunchy things because there was an “incident” as a kid where I bit into something crunchy/”sharp” and it went straight into my gums which began bleeding; of course I may have been missing teeth in that spot, making it easier to get straight to the gums, but whatever!), and I loved the pickled vegetables. There wasn’t a lack (or over-abundance) of eel. The sandwich was darn tasty. BUT. It was not worth $7 in my opinion. Delicious and maybe an occasional treat, but this doesn’t have what I’d want in banh mi (from my now-three-times-experiencing-food-from-the-banh-mi-cart). The oiliness/fattiness of the eel – which is what makes eel delicious – overpowers the other ingredients and while the idea of an eel sandwich is great, this particular rendition falls flat. Anyone wants to retry — I’m open for trying new versions 😉
Yvo says: I don’t know if they serve good banh mi, or authentic banh mi, or whatever. I know they’re very good sandwiches and they filled me up for $5 – and I have a big appetite – they’re pretty long, though yes, a bit flat, this is not your overstuffed deli sandwich by any means. But packed with flavor, easy to eat, and really, if you’re that hungry, get another one, you’d still be within the $10 range! I highly recommend them (aside from the eel one) if you work or play in the area. Yummy. I foresee this being my go-to after-gym snack from now on.
Banh Mi Cart
parked in front of 132 John Street, between Water & Pearl
(646) 996-8990 before 11am for pick up
Bahn Mi really is the best recession food. Before Subway and Quiznos dropped their prices and Vietnamese places increased theirs, it was like $3.25 versus $8 for a foot long sandwich. Obviously, $3.25 is a better deal. Now it’s $4 (or $5) versus $5.
Oh man, so much banh mi porn!! I haven’t had one in a long time. I should hunt out if there are any to be had in this area.
Not butter or lard! it’s vietnamese mayo!
OH MY GOODNESS! Once your temporary meat-less stage is over, you MUST go get a bahn mi in Sunset Park on 42nd and 8th Avenue. i believe the name is Ba Xuyen. IT. IS. THE. BEST. BAHN. MI. EVER! And the prices are below $5!! (Unless it went up!)
YUM! Thanks for the tip…I will try to remember this place. I am similarly not an expert on Bahn Mi, but I had an amazing one last week at Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwich shop in Brooklyn:
pate, ground roast pork, and similar veggies to yours…so yeah, no idea if it is better than more bahn mi, but I have been daydreaming about it ever since…damn now I REALLY want one again.
*that should say MOST, not more…and seriously, I wish you hadn’t got me thinking about this. It’s 5pm, I already have dinner plans, and I am about half way out the door to go get myself another bahn mi at nicky’s
This looks delicious!! It’s about time there was a bahn mi cart! I will definitely come here to try!
not butter or lard. it’s mayo
I keep cracking up as I start reading each post….before you go meatless…., just forget the whole meatless thing…look at all the stuff you’ll miss out on.
wow that looked fabulous! I could almost taste it, and it was all the worse for me because my dinner out was less than stellar. Steak that had too much tenderizer at some point, overcooked broccoli and a baked potato that obviously came from a microwave. sigh. not nice.
BS – you have some nerve!!! I still read ES even though all day it’s torture and filled with meats I can’t eat for now! I keep thinking “I have to go eat/make that… oh wait.” 😛
Jessica – lol… I’ve been meatless for a little under 2 weeks now… I’m coming back for sure, but I believe I have already learned a lot from the brief time I’ve been in this experiment. 🙂
Greenmare – 🙁 where did you eat? I will be sure to avoid that place! Blech!
lurker coming out of hiding about the banh mi.
in the first banh mi that you have, it is something simliar to roast pork, the pate and then something we call cha lua which is vietnamese pork roll.
banh mi can also be meatless. mainly because the word banh mi just means bread in vietnamese. so there can be many different fillings for it.
Thanks blueangel! That’s really helpful.
I was wondering about the butter/lard/mayo comments because a good friend of mine always talks about how her favorite place uses lard/butter instead of the mayo that another place that everyone likes uses. I’d never heard of Vietnamese mayo so I looked it up and this is what I found: http://www.saigonesl.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=654 which is consistent with the mayo looking yellowy, giving a butter/lard impression. I think I may try to make these at home…
NAHHH 🙂 I’ll just buy them, probably taste better too, hehe!
Boohoo, your pictures don’t show up for me at work! Stupid firewall! I’m so jealous you have a banh mi cart downtown! Thai Son has a pretty good banh mi but I haven’t had it in awhile. My mother-in-law (she’s Viet) found an awesome place for banh mi on Centre Street (I think?) next to that Japanese restaurant. It’s a CD store/sandwich counter and they have really good sandwiches and other Viet snacks there. I forgot what it’s called though.
Get over yourself, honey.
the photos look awesome and never had an eel banh mi, not quite authentic but the rest of the sammys you had are!
banh mi is normally served with traditional vietnamese meats: pate, salami, grilled pork and sausage.
bread is the best key to a successful banh mi, ingredients and the mayo. sometimes they also serve maggi sauce (its similiar to a light soy sauce but not).
That looks pretty good, especially the eel one. That one probably isn’t all that authentic, but what a great idea.
And thanks to you, I just watched like ten puppy videos on youtube.
Now THAT’s a REAL Vietnamese sandwich, which includes homemade mayo and pate. =D If you got the special, it should come with cha lua (Vietnamese steamed pork sausage roll), roasted pork, and headcheese. If it’s gelatinous, it’s probably headcheese.
Hmm… I've never seen caramelized onions and bacon in a Vietnamese sandwich. I think you've been had. I live in Sunset Park which has even better banh mi shops than Ba Xuyen (which seriously dates the commenter above). And no it doesn't have headcheese. This is a pretty horrific looking sandwich so I would suggest you try a more reasonable one elsewhere.
wow. I like this post