For this week’s column, I went on a banh mi bender, sampling the wares at all the banh mi places in Brooklyn’s Chinatown. I called Andrea Nguyen, the Vietnamese cooking expert and cookbook author, to find out what she thinks are the hallmarks of a great banh mi, and she had some very interesting things to say, not only about what makes a great sandwich, but also about how she’s tired of hearing it called a product of French colonialism. It was Vietnamese cooks who came up with the sandwich, and they already had a long history of making charcuterie and lunch meats—that wasn’t brought by the French. Vietnamese cooks even re-made the baguette, mixing in rice flour because it was cheaper and more familiar. (Does anyone know if you can get a rice flour baguette at any of the banh mi places in the city? I didn’t find any on my Brooklyn travels.)
No matter how the sandwich was born, banh mi are inarguably delicious—eat plenty of them this summer.