Friday July 18th 2009
We leave Prosperity Dumpling and head north towards Banh Mi Saigon Bakery on Mott Street. We are conducting a drive-by eating of sorts.
You may have to do a double take when arriving at Banh Mi Saigon Bakery, because I did. I saw the sign awning above that showed its name but at first glance inside I thought it was a jewelry store!(?) Looking deeper into the store I find the Banh Mi Saigon stall all the way in the back, with a line of customers in waiting for their order of delicious sandwiches. Ah, the banh mi sandwich, quintessential street food of Vietnam, popular here in New York City as ever especially ever since the New York Times article on them and their recent “evolution”.
On the front door, there is a sticker stating that Banh Mi Saigon is on the list for comedian “Bill Murray’s Last Meal”. I know I am in for a treat at this point and there is no turning back.
The Jewelry Store / Banh Mi Sandwich Shop – a interesting symbiotic relationship similar to the idea of the mullet: “business in the front, and party in the back.”
While in line, we were advised by a gentleman that they are renown for their #1 Banh Mi Saigon with pork (it seems the number 1 is almost always a good choice). I take his advice and order it for me and brother Andrew. They ask you if you like it spicy and I often reply no and ask for it on the side. If you tell them that you will eat it tomorrow, they will put the picked veggies in a separate bag for you so it won’t soak the sandwich overnight. At only $3.75, this banh mi is a steal here in Manhattan and also a great value as the sandwich comes in about 10 inches long on a baguette.
Inside, the small store is filled with people waiting for their orders. I am guessing they take meticulous care of their sandwiches, like sushi chefs do, sort of?. While we wait, I notice the other items for sale here including gio cuon -Vietnamese spring rolls – and salads, che pudding desserts, as well as other small to go items.
After about 10 minutes in line, we finally receive our sandwich wrapped in wax paper inside a brown paper bag and cut in half. If you order this for yourself you can eat the first half and save the other half for a late afternoon snack if you’d like.
We decided to go outside and sit out in front of the store on a stoop, watching people walk by as we enjoyed our sandwiches.
I immediately notice that the banh mi saigon has sweet reddish crumbled pieces of dried marinated pork (nem nuong) on the bottom layer, with hints of fish sauce, something that is not found in any of the banh mi shops in Orlando. Usually there is the banh mi dac biet in Orlando which is a special combo of all the cold cuts, but the banh mi saigon is served with cha lua and also this pork
Andrew notes that he loves how fresh everything is and how distinct each of the tastes in the sandwich is. This is his first time eating banh mi, I think I just popped his banh mi cherry, and he likes it. Andrew notices also that the way they keep the pickled daikon and carrots from soaking through the sandwich is that they wrapped it inside of the cha lua pork meat cold cut to block the juices from seeping through.
This scintillating sandwich is one of the top five banh mi I have had in my life, beating all the banh mi in Orlando for sure and rivaling a few out west in Texas and California (as about close to Vietnam that you can get). The crisp outer layer and soft inner bread of the baguette, the fresh slivers of cucumber and pickled vegetables and meat cuts with a hint of fish sauce, all come together in perfect harmony. All is well in the universe.
It was well worth the wait. Alas, we can’t sit around for too long as we have miles to go before we let our stomachs sleep. Onward to Lombardi’s, the famous pizzeria!
Tasty Chomps Rating!!!!
4.5 out of 5 TASTY CHOMPS!!!!!