Banh mi, oh my

Friday, July 28th, 2006 | All Things, Eats, Friends

For lunch this afternoon, I decided to stroll up to the Chinatown border for a bánh mì — the Vietnamese sandwich of warm, toasted French baguette, pâté, shredded carrots, daikon, cucumber, cilantro and meats topped with a variety of sauces and seasonings, a culinary marriage of French and colonial-era Vietnamese cultures.

On a nice day, it’s a pleasant stroll past City Hall Park to the closest sandwich shop, on the corner of Lafayette and Walker. Today, however, was not a nice day: it was, in fact, very hot and very humid, and halfway through my decidedly unpleasant 20 minute walk, I was berating myself for not having taken the subway.

Sáu Voi Corporation is not the name of a place one would associate with cheap and tasty sandwiches. In fact, it’s a tiny, no-frills convenience store, crammed to the brim with a random assortment of brassieres, Vietnamese pop music, cigarettes and lottery tickets. The neon sign advertises the primary reason for most visits to the shop.

Sau Voi Corp

The right half of the store is dedicated to the Sáu Voi “Cafe” — really just a counter loaded with prepared Vietnamese snacks, behind which two women work in cramped quarters, brewing coffees and slapping together some dozen or so varieties of bánh mì.

Vietnamese snacks

Maximum capacity for the store is about half a dozen people, and during peak lunch hour the line can spill over to the outside. The women working the food counter, though, are models of efficiency: from order to pick-up, I’ve never had to wait more than five minutes.

According to the menu, the Saigon bánh mì I ordered is made with “BBQ minced meat and slices of pork roll or ham.” Not sure what “pork roll or ham” means… is that chef’s choice? Or are they unsure about what to label the mystery meat? Well, whatever it is, it’s tasty — if not quite as tasty as the one I had in Ho Chi Minh City last month — and for $3.00, tax included, I’m not going to think about it too much.

Banh Mi

New York City has several bánh mì shops scattered mostly throughout downtown Manhattan and in Brooklyn. The best one is a matter of some foodie debate, but many seem to recommend Saigon Bánh Mì, formerly located in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge, but recently relocated to Mott at Grand Street. That’s about six blocks farther from my office than my old standby Sáu Voi, so I’ll wait for the weather to turn cooler before I investigate.

After work, I dashed home to pick up the pasta salad I made last night for SYB’s dinner party. As per sketchy usual, M and I had arranged to meet on the subway platform. She’d brought her usual contribution of booze, and we flirted briefly with the idea of ditching the dinner to set out on our own picnic. Cooler minds prevailed, though, and we made it to Sunnyside with our cargo intact.

Full house at SYB’s. We missed out on AC’s Baltimore crabcakes, which made me a little sad, but at least people seemed to enjoy the pasta, enough at least that I was spared having to carry home any leftovers. As the night wore on, the talk turned saucy — could it have been the effects of the Summer savory in my salad? More likely M’s giant pitcher of Sex on the Beach, made with cranberry juice, orange-pineapple juice, and entire bottles of Absolut vodka and Peach schnapps.

There are no comments just yet.

Go for it ...