The Jew And The Carrot

Banh Mi Finally Arrives for the Jewish Palate

By Elizabeth Alpern

  • Print
  • Share Share

Ever since French colonizers arrived in Vietnam in the mid-ninteenth century and brought their countryside “salad sandwich” with them, which locals set marvelously askew using regional ingredients like cilantro and pickled daikon and carrots, residents of Vietnam have feasted on banh mi sandwiches. But only in the past couple of years, has the delicacy become popular with adventurous eaters in the United States.

In the wake of French colonization Vietnam was left with master bread bakers who created a special baguette-like sandwich roll that incorporates rice flour, thus serving as an airy and delightful “frame” for the layers of ingredients that compose banh mi. According to Tan Nguyen, co-owner of Rebel Heroes, a food truck specializing in banh mi that operates in Arlington, Virginia (where I work), “That crusty bread is the real requirement.”

The filling for the majority of banh mi are pork-centric, using various roast pork cuts and patés as their main components. And while chicken and vegetarian versions are common, the sandwich has yet to become popular, or even available, within kosher communities until last month.

On August 20, Kolette’s Kitchen, a glatt kosher restaurant opened on Lexington and East 56th St. in Manhattan, serving Vietnamese sandwiches alongside its Middle Eastern and deli offerings. Owner Gil Amor, an Israeli of Moroccan descent who has never been to Vietnam, learned about banh mi from renowned Vietnamese chef and banh mi maker Michael Bao.

Amor, who ran a kosher bread distribution company, began providing bread to Bao and a strong relationship formed between the two. Bao introduced Amor to the flavors of banh mi and Amor combined them with kosher ingredients.

Kolette’s Kitchen serves six types of banh mi including the “classic” composed of turkey terrine and veggie paté, ground beef and mango, and Vietnamese style chicken shawarma, all topped with pickled vegetables and fresh herbs. Since the opening the Vietnamese sandwiches have been the shop’s biggest seller, according to Amor, though he has had to field a great number of questions about what these sandwiches actually are.

“Banh mi is really all about the toppings”, says Nguyen. “Everyone has their own opinion about what makes banh mi banh mi.”

Banh Mi is composed of layers. Below, a quick guide to building your perfect tofu banh mi.

1) Layer One: The bread. Banh mi rolls can be purchased at Asian bakeries and grocery stores. If you don’t have one nearby, experts suggest using a Portuguese roll or even a soft Italian roll. A classic French baguette can work, but may be too chewy.

2) Layer Two: Slather your roll with mayonnaise. Traditionalists make a special mayo, but lime mayo, which can be purchased in a Latin grocery store, is also delicious.

3) Layer Three: Grill/heat your tofu steak. Be sure to get the pre-fried tofu so that it retains its form and isn’t too watery. Ideally, you would use three slices, each about ½ inch thick.

4) Layer Four: Fresh toppings. Should include scallions, pickled jalapeno peppers, cilantro, cucumber and pickled daikon and carrot (can be purchased in Asian goods stores or made in a few hours using rice vinegar, salt, sugar and water).

5) Layer Five: Sauce. Tofu banh mi is best with peanut hoisin sauce. If you like a little heat, add a line of Asian hot sauce like sriracha (also available at Asian grocery stores).

  • Composition care of Rebel Heroes

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Michael Bao, Kolette's Kitchen, Gil Amor, Bahn Mi

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.