Bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwich)

When I told my friend Joan that I was going to make Vietnamese sandwiches or, bánh mì (pronounced bangh me), her eyes lit up and a big smile came across her face. “Oh, I would send you to Saigon to a tiny place that makes the most incredible sandwiches.”

Joan grew up in Vietnam and returns frequently, so she would know just where to send me. She fondly remembers the unique sandwich wrapped in newsprint that she would buy as a kid. And it’s also one of the things she looks forward to getting on her return trips.

This culture clash of a sandwich can be traced to the French colonization of Indochina. It combines ingredients from the French (baguettes) with the Vietnamese (pickled veggies) and results in a multi-culture match made in heaven.

Joan gave me enthusiastic but slightly vague details. She said that she loved the combination of the crispy bread, spicy sauce, tangy pickled vegetables and savory meat.

Her vagueness had to do with the meat. Joan told me that meatballs aren’t in an authentic Saigon bánh mì, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on exactly what the meat was. She and her husband finally decided that it was somewhere between pâté and bologna. Both agreed that whatever the meat is, the sandwich is delicious.

Turns out that there are lots of interpretations of the proper meat for the sandwiches, including roasted pork, ham, pork pâté, grilled chicken, meatballs and even tofu.

Joan has several Vietnamese cookbooks, but she wasn’t able to find the sandwich in any of them. The thought is that bánh mì is primarily street food and not something many home cooks make. I don’t think this is because it is difficult, but rather that the sandwich, at least in Vietnam, is ubiquitous and cheap.

Joan doesn’t know it, but I plan to sit in her kitchen, comb through her cookbooks and pick her brain about other delicious Vietnamese dishes. Stay tuned!


Quick Pickled Vegetables
1 carrot, julienne
1 cup coarsely grated peeled daikon (Japanese white radish, substitute a regular radish)
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar (or honey)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 pound ground pork
5 garlic cloves, minced
4 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 to 2 tablespoons of sesame oil for cooking the meatballs

Spicy Mayo
1 cup mayonnaise (I prefer homemade)
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)


Cucumber slices
Jalapeño chiles, thinly sliced
Cilantro sprigs
2 large French baguettes (or four small baguettes)


Quick Pickled Vegetables:

  • In a small saucepan, combine the water, sugar, salt and vinegar and bring to a boil.
  • Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add sesame oil, carrots and radishes, mix well.
  • Marinate for 30 minutes or store in the refrigerator overnight.


  • In a large bowl, mix all meatball ingredients, except the sesame oil. I roll up my sleeves and mix this with my hands.
  • Using a tablespoon on the mixture, form a one-inch meatball.
  • Heat the sesame oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add as many meatballs that will comfortably fit in the pan and sauté until they are cooked through, flipping occasionally. You want them browned, but not burnt. Repeat until all the meatballs are cooked.

Spicy Chili Mayo

  • Stir all ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and chill.

Sandwich Assembly

  • Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Cut the baguettes in half; you will have four pieces. Slice the pieces length wise, but not all the way through. You want it to open like a hot dog bun. Hollow out some of the bread in the middle to make room for the meatballs (save for breadcrumbs or feed the birds).
  • Place baguettes on a baking sheet and bake until hot and crusty; about five minutes.
  • Slather the insides with the spicy mayonnaise. Place cucumber, jalapeños and cilantro on the bottom. Top each sandwich with a quarter of the meatballs, followed by the pickled vegetables (drained).

Serves four.