Summer is fast approaching so we are switching from soups and stews to fun lunches, sandwiches, and the like. Banh Mi is a very popular Vietnamese sandwich served on French bread. Now if you think about it, you may wonder how did a French baguette end up on a Vietnamese menu! In case you don’t know how it got there, here some interesting context on that story.
A little background:
Franco-Vietnamese relations started back in the 17th century with the arrival of Catholic missionaries but it was in 1887 that France decided to colonize Vietnam and Cambodia. As a result, both countries were renamed and became Indochina for the 70 years of French occupation.
Without going into too many historical details, it is interesting to see that French cuisine has left its influence in a number of gifts like crepes, flans, asparagus, potatoes, onions, coffee, and bread just to name a few. And in this case, not just any bread, the mighty French baguette!
If you have ever been to France and grabbed a quick lunch in a brewery, chances are, you will have seen or even tasted (if you eat meat), the traditional “Jambon beurre”. Unlike its American counterpart which is filled with layers after layers of sliced meat, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes making it quite the mouthful to eat, the French baguette sandwich will surprise you with its stark simplicity. It is only buttered, has a dollop of dijon mustard, 1-2 thin slices of ham, and maybe a slice of cheese! That’s it! Quite minimalist! To be fair, it isn’t supposed to be a full meal but a little something you eat on the go.
It is great to see that the Vietnamese adapted that same classic French sandwich and in my book, improved it big time! Banh Mi, also called a Saigon roll, modified the original baguette recipe by adding rice flour to the wheat flour which made the bread lighter and chewier.
They added fresh vegetables (cucumber, cilantro, and sliced chili) and crunchy juicy pickled vegetables!
They incorporated French pate and grilled meat.
Truth be told, I have never tasted a regular banh mi with beef. That ship sailed over 32 years ago! But I have had my fair share of amazing vegan banh mi. While the faux meat part varied, the bread, pickles, and fresh herbs were always the same and that’s the key!
Best bread for Banh Mi?
There is usually an artisan bread section in most grocery stores that is separate from the bread section that is pre-sliced and in plastic bags. It has a broader selection of artisanal bread, like loaves, baguettes, olive bread, rolls, like kaiser or ciabatta, and more.
For this sandwich, it is best to use softer bread rolls and if you can’t find them, a small French baguette will also do the trick.
This sandwich goes great with a salad, a bowl of soup, chips, or even French fries. So have fun and let me know how it turned out.
Best Vegan Banh Mi
- 2 Bread rolls
- 2 medium carrots
- 1 medium daikon (white radish)
- 1/4 cup white or rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tbsp white or raw sugar
- 1/2 cucumber
- 2 slices firm or extra firm organic tofu
- 1-2 tbsp cornstarch
- 2 tbsp hoisin sauce
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp sugar or maple syrup
- 2 tbsp vegetable mayonnaise (Vegenaise)
- 1 tbsp siracha (chili paste)
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro (stems and leaves)
- 1/2 fresh cucumber
- Cut open the bread rolls on one side and set aside. Do not cut in half!
Prepare the pickled vegetables
- Scrape the carrots and cut into thin sticks.
- Peel the daikon and cut into thin sticks.
- Place the carrots and daikon into a mason jar.
- Heat up the white or rice vinegar, the water and the sugar just to dissolve the sugar.
- Pour the sweet brine over the vegetable and let it pickle for 15 mn or overnight.
Prepare the marinated crisp tofu
- Pat dry the 2 slices of firm or extra firm tofu.
- Pour the cornstarch in a shallow bowl. Dip the tofu slices making sure not to break them until they are coated on all sides.
- In a small bowl, mix the marinade ingredients: 2tbsp hoisin sauce, 2 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp sugar or maple syrup and set aside.
- Heat 1 tbsp of vegetable oil on medium heat and pan fry the coated tofu for 1-2 minutes until the slices are crisp.
- While the pan is hot, quickly pour the marinade over the tofu. Move and the flip the slices to evenly coat. Set aside.
- Place some of the siracha vegan mayonnaise on both sides of the rolls.
- Add the cucumber sticks and pickled carrots and daikon on one side.
- Add a slice of warm marinated tofu.
- Insert 1-2 branches of cilantro.