There’s nothing we love more in our sandwiches than a little imperialism. Lucky for us, the French-Vietnamese bánh mì satisfies that colonial itch perfectly. Born out of the period when Vietnam was known more Westernly as French Indochina, this portable history lesson combines traditional French ingredients with (slightly) more exotic Vietnamese fare. France contributes the baguette, the mayo, and the liver pâté while Vietnam steps up with cilantro, your choice of Southeast Asian meats, pickled carrots + daikon, and hot peppers. How’s that for Asian Fusion?
If you’re not quite ready for that daunting trip down to your local Little Saigon, get your bánh mì fix in LA at any of the four Mendocino Farms “sandwich markets.” Their version swaps the baguette for a ciabatta grilled on a panini press—but there’s a good chance you won’t even notice because the crunchy/soft ratio is pretty much the same even if the shape is different.
The classic toppings are all there: house-made pickled carrots and daikon, jalapeños and cilantro. But Mendocino throws on some cucumber for crunch and slathers the ciabatta in chili aioli to make sure the Scovilles are peaking. You won’t find any pâté on this bánh mì either, but you will score some incredible braised Kurobuta pork belly. And you can feel good about it, too, because this all-natural, free-range pork comes from family farms in Minnesota. It’s wholesome.
A fourth Mendocino Farms location just opened in West Hollywood last month and with more expansion already planned for 2012, there’s a good chance that their pork belly bánh mì will be on every street corner in LA by the end of next year. For a sandwich that came to the U.S. from Vietnam by way of Paris, the bánh mì is like the hand-held version of the American Dream – or just a really good sandwich.