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.