Calling a banh mi a Vietnamese sandwich and leaving it at that is a bit like saying a po'boy is just a New Orleans sub. It's not wrong, but it doesn't exactly convey the full splendour of the thing.
Like a po'boy, a banh mi is made with a light, airy baguette that's soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside. Fillings and proteins can vary, but some of the flavor combinations that make a banh mi so distinctive and addictive include preserved daikon radish and carrot, mayonnaise, jalapeno, cucumber, and fresh cilantro. Did I mention that I am a bit obsessed with them? Poppa Trix and I get so worked up over them, in fact, that we loudly sing a nonsensical banh mi song (over and over and over) in anticipation of getting an amazing tofu or grilled shrimp version for lunch from our local Vietnamese place.
But whenever I love something, I want to be able to make it for myself. A recent trip to Asian supermarket chain H-Mart provided the perfect excuse to get a bunch of ingredients to make our very own tofu banh mi.
You'll need (for 2):
2 7" baguettes - light and airy ones, not dense! Ours were a bit heavier than I would have preferred, so we scooped out most of the inside of the baguettes and toasted them in the oven to get the top crispy.
Mayo (full fat, not light)
Pickled cucumber (at left, above) This is certainly optional, but the sweet/sour/tangy heat gave the banh mi a lovely oomph
Preserved daikon and carrot (above, second from left) I plan to make my own someday, but this was meant to be a quick lunch.
Thinly sliced jalapeno peppers, seeds removed
Plum sauce - I haven't seen this used anywhere else, but our local place uses it and the sweetness goes really well with the heat of the jalapenos
Cucumber, thinly sliced with no seeds
Extra firm tofu, drained, cut into squares and fried until crispy
Assemble your banh mi:
Smear some mayo on both sides of the baguette, with a tiny drizzle of soy sauce and a few dots of plum sauce. Layer the rest of your ingredients, ending with the tofu and fresh cilantro sprigs. Try to eat it while the bread is still warm!