July 07, 2010

The Best Eats Are On The Streets

Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwich.

Street food is a weakness of mine. When I travel anywhere, it's the first thing I look for. You often get the real sense of a country's (or city's) culinary clout by what you purchase from a rickety cart on a bustling corner. In some way, such workman-meals give away a culture's deeper secrets. What can the average cart-pushing cook whip up on the sidewalk? What does that say about a people group's creativity, ingenuity, and zest for life? You can learn a lot about people by what and how they cook, if you just pay attention.

Some of my BEST meals have come from street carts. Of course, these were not the most elegant and artful meals I've ever eaten. They lacked trendy ingredients, pristine plating, and a lavish environment in which to enjoy them. But as for pure flavor and MEMORABILITY, street food rules in my book! There are several meals I ate more than a decade ago that are still so fresh in my mind, I can taste their distinct flavors from memory...I literally salivate just to think of them. Some so unique, I may NEVER be able to recreate them quite right!

Vietnamese is my all-out FAVORITE regional cuisine. Fresh, funky, full-bodied, and fragrant. In my mind the Vietnamese hold the eastern market on flavor and appeal. As for street food, Vietnam offers a thrilling array of choices. Salad bowls, soups, chicken wings, and spring rolls are all sold curbside to hungry passers. Yet above all these, reigns the Banh Mi Sandwich!

Banh Mi is the term for a Vietnamese baguette made with a combination of wheat and rice flours. A Banh Mi sandwich is stuffed with various marinated meats, cucumbers, herbs, and pickled veggies. Most Banh Mi sandwiches are also spread with pate'. The bread and pate' are no surprise to historians, as Vietnam was a french colony in the 1800s. The french always have a way of leaving their mark!

The marinated meats and the pickled veggies are the standout items on this sandwich. In my version, the chicken is soaked in a fish sauce and lime juice marinade. I have a love-hate relationship with fish sauce. I LOVE the distinct flavor that greatly enhances meat, but HATE the putrid odor that seems to linger for hours. DON'T BE TEMPTED TO SKIP THE FISH SAUCE! It is a vital part of Vietnamese cooking. My suggestion with fish sauce is, hold your nose and pour away! The heinous odor will diminish once cooked! I left the pate' off my Banh Mi sandwiches and added a little mayonnaise. I felt the mayo offered a smooth, creamy base and didn't distract from the star ingredients!

Grilling the marinated chicken creates a caramelized crust with a juicy interior. For those without access to a grill, you could definitely broil the chicken for a similar effect. Although, I suggest investing in an iron grill pan. A good grill pan will produce wonderful grill marks, plus the fat and juices run away from the meat just like on an outdoor grill!

This was a big hit with the ladies at my last cooking class...and ALWAYS a family favorite! I just know you'll enjoy as much as we do!


Grilled Chicken Banh Mi

½ cup fish sauce
½ cup lime juice
¼ cup sugar
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 chopped jalapeño
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 ¼ lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts (3-4 breasts)

½ cup hot tap water
¼ cup rice vinegar
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper
2 carrots sliced thin on the bias
2 daikon radishes, sliced thin on the bias

6 soft sub rolls
1/3 cup mayo
½ a cucumber, sliced thin
1 cup cilantro leaves (or mint)
1 sliced jalapeño for extra heat (optional)

Mix the first six ingredients in a baking dish. Add the chicken breasts to the dish, cover, and refrigerate at least 1 hour. Longer is better!

Stir the hot tap water and sugar in a medium bowl, until the sugar dissolves. Add the vinegar, salt, red pepper, sliced carrots and radishes. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Heat the grill to medium. Grill the chicken breasts for 5 minutes per side. Remove from heat and cover them with foil to rest for 5 minutes.

Open the sub rolls and grill the insides for about 1-3 minute—until toasted.

Drain the pickled veggies. Slice the chicken into thin pieces.

Spread mayo over in the sub rolls. Layer the cucumbers, chicken, pickled veggies, cilantro leaves and jalapeños in the rolls.

Serve immediately! Serve 6.

Grilled Chicken Banh Mi on Foodista


  1. OH last time I had one of those was in Paris in their Chinatown! so a long time ago...I loved those, soooooo good! Thanks for the recipe! You're right you cannot skip the fish sauce even if it smells bad, some things smells bad and taste good, so this is one of those ingredients! beautiful sandwiches.

  2. I have never had one of those sandwiches but I love all of the ingredients and so would my family. Fish Sauce has its bad smell but is just necessary to Thai and Vietnamese food.
    Thanks, Sommer, for sharing Banh Mi.

  3. delicious! used to get these from little saigon for $2 a pop. I absolutely hate the smell of fish sauce, but I know I have to use it. Gah. The shrimp marinade I've created in my head to make my spring rolls tomorrow is similar to yours! Now I know it won't taste bad!

  4. Sorry if this becomes a double post - my first comment vanished!

    Anyway I just wanted to say this is absolutely gorgeous and driving me to distraction! Fish sauce is a necessary evil - but you sure got a handle on it ;)

  5. Looks fantastic. I love banh mi. it is pretty cheap around here so i just buy it.

  6. That looks really tasty. I like the idea of an authentic Asian style sandwich.

  7. I am sooooooo with you about street food being the best best food ever. I may have to slightly disagree with you...Malaysian street food is the bomb diggity. However, once I try your banh mi, I might sing a different tune!

  8. The sandwich looks great!

    Have you ever tried the 3 crabs brand fish sauce? It is the ONLY brand I use because it is very mild and does not smell very fishy. :)


  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Sorry spelling issues! I love your sandwich, I would like to try one of these!

  11. I completely agree with you that street food is the best. I love the flavors of your sandwiches. So many things going on in your mouth at once. YUM!

  12. This looks so, so good! It's been so long since I've been to a big city and bought food on the street. Totally adding it to my to-do list :) Thanks for sharing!

  13. This looks great! I've been wanting to make Banh Mi for a long time, so this is perfect!

  14. A sandwich that requires so much care must be awesome-tasting!

  15. Hey Sommer, I love this sandwich. Beautiful. I used to go to little Asia in Atlanta and eat this type of sandwich with broth like soup-so good!
    p.s. I love fish sauce, but your'e right It's weird and smelly!

  16. I love ur space, and ur writing style.I can spend the whole day here. Am bookmarking u....

  17. This sandwich is mouthwatering!!!

  18. I have never had Vietnamese cuisine....you make is sound so very very good, especially that sandwich..wow, pate and a baguette I would have never imagined it, and I have used fish sauce so I do understand what you are saying....maybe I need to do a Vietnam day at school!

  19. I agree! Where I grew up in Korea had a lot of street vendors and man, they were cheap and so delicious!!! I miss them. This sandwich looks fabulous.

  20. This is like elegant street food! Far more couture!

  21. I wish I lived in a city that had interesting street food - the street food in L.A. was amazing. Here - it's nachos and the like. They're fine - but really good old fast food. Now this enchants. This charms. This begs to be eaten. Thanks for the recipe, I have noted it.

  22. Oh my - the last time I had these was at a hawker center in Singapore. I want some now! Right there with you - Vietnamese food rocks!

    And any time you want to go street cart raiding - ask me! I'm your gal :)

    Ciao, Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

    PS - Your pics are fab as usual

  23. Delightful! Looks amazingly good...and the photos are spectacular:)

  24. Love these authentic renditions, Sommer! I am determined to try them all... you are right, street food rules! ( :

  25. Your sandwich is lovely. I have trouble buying true banh mi rolls. We had them in Vietnam and were spoiled. I've also had no luck with finding a recipe which could be used to make the roll. Your photos are spectacular. I hope you are having a great day. Blessings...Mary

  26. wow this looks amazing love street food

  27. You are right, street food is the best way to a food culture's heart. Like you, when I travel I am always looking out the cart on the corner.

    The banh mi sandwich is a perfect example. Awesome!

  28. My nose is way too sensitive...hence the reason the fish sauce has not hit my pantry. I have so many Asian sauces that I love to use in what I call my fusion cooking...imagine Italian and Asian...very interesting...and it works ;o)
    Here, in Montreal, we have many Vietnamese restaurants where we are spoiled with their delicious food.

    I can really appreciate the recipe you shared with us because I can certainly use this as a base to some fantastic turn outs ;o)
    The photos are so carefully and passionately taken...your dedication certainly shows in your post.

    Thank you for having visited me ealier on...now, I can follow your posts too.

    Flavourful wishes,

  29. I love fish sauce - both the smell and the taste...in general, I like "stinking" food and ingredients...
    I am the amateur of the street food, as well, but not in Poland and not in France....maybe because the only food we can buy here on the street are gluey hot dogs and hamburgers, and kebabs...in Asia, the story about the street food is completely different.
    Very tasty recipe and nice step by step instructions.

  30. Thanks for linking back to your Bun Cha Gio. Now THAT is my all-time favorite, and I've never made it.

  31. Your photos look great. The banhmi looks so tasty! I've been eating these ever since I was a kid. I think the bread plays a major role in a tasty banhmi. I love the pickled veggies and I like to add lots of hot peppers in mine.

  32. Perfect street food ~ I feel the same way about fish sauce.

  33. Wow, that looks amazing!! And your philosophy on street food is wonderful...I agree that it tells so much about the people themselves. Lovely...and gorgeous photos =)

  34. Great sandwich. Love the vibrant photos as well.

  35. this sandwich looks terrific! Hard to find such yummy pieces on the streets sadly!

  36. This sandwich looks phenomenal! I can't wait to make it for my family.

  37. How did I miss this? I thought I had your feed, hmm anyways lovely sandwich, i also have a love/hate relationship with fish sacue but wow does it add that little yummy kick, yummy pics the first one is killer


  38. We love banh mi - I've made them with pork meatballs (http://ladyberds-kitchen.blogspot.com/2010/01/banh-mi-oh-my.html)but will have to try your chicken recipe - it looks delish!

    And I couldn't agree more with fish sauce - I once dropped and broke an entire bottle on my kitchen floor - the smell was awful!

  39. These are one of my fav Vietnamese dishes. The couple that lives across from us , the husband is Vietnamese and I love when he invites us for dinner.


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