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Feb 22, 2000 04:10 AM

Subs -- Vietnamese -- The Ba Le

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Paul called our attention to the bread used to make a sub. " Before I begin let me say…at least in my opinion…there can be no great sub without a great piece of bread. I believe a sub is 75% bread and 25% what goes inside." Way to go, Paul!

Who, but the French can lay claim to the finest white breads on the planet? The French controlled Vietnam for 75 years and gave the Vietnamese important lessons in culinary arts. The Vietnamese insist on good French bread as the basis for their subs.

The little Ba Le Vietnamese sub shop is located at 1052 Dorchester Ave. next to St Williams church - 265-7171. For decades the place used to be flower shop -- which gave way to a Vietnamese restaurant owned by friends and schoolmates of our younger son. The father went down to the cops and robbers Dorchester games and sold machine guns to undercover agents. (I told you about "The Friends of Eddy Coyle"). The Ba Le took over and makes little pretension of catering to the Anglos -- so they sink or swim on their appeal to Vietnamese tastes. They appear to be doing quite well.

There are cooler cases filled with colorful take-out meals sealed in plastic packs - lots of noodle dishes and sweets. Steam cabinets with hot soups and various preparations of fish, beef, crab and vegetables served as hot lunches and suppers for Vietnamese take out or sit-down customers. The subs are pictured and numbered on the backlit panel behind and above the counter.

There are at least eight subs. Our favorites are the #1 -sort of an Italian equivalent, only with Vietnamese cold cuts. Each sub is lathered with a sauce on the 8-9 inch crisp loaf of French bread. The meat is added and that is covered with long cuts of cucumber, cut up onions, carrots, more sauce, sprigs of fresh cilantro and the small fiery green chillies (if you want them - I do). Another great sub is the shu mai variety with large, soft meatball-like shu mai stuffing. The barbecued beef is interesting - as are the hard meatball and the chicken subs. Everything is fresh, crunchy and very tasty. I was astonished when this place opened a couple of years ago. The family running it has been wonderfully friendly and takes time to offer instructions on Vietnamese cuisine to us Anglos :- ). With the local sub shops going from bad to worse, these Vietnamese subs are very welcome - if only the local Irish and other ethnic groups could catch on to them.

Last but not least is the price - two bucks. You can eat at one of the four tables if you want. I took my two subs home - ate half of each with a little home made tomato soup. I know the Salumerias in the North End have great subs, but they could use this fresh French bread and where in the North End can I get fresh shu mai stuffing on a sub? :- )

When I leave the Ba Le I usually make a little gasho bow to the Buddhist altar under the front counter with thanks for this family's existence. In my youth - 50 years ago -the local Catholics would have put this place out of business (like they stopped the news stores from selling EC comics like MAD and Tales from the Crypt). This is a brave new world in Dorchester, it took fifty years to get here, and I'm livin' large and lovin' it!


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  1. Went back to Ba Le for a supper visit tonight. They have steam table with several offerings. For five bucks you get a fair sized serving of Vietnamese chicken soup with pineapple, sliced green peppers, tomatoes, been sprouts and a broth that is quite spicy -along with a plate of two main dishes and rice. The choices tonight were a hot and sour chicken, barbecued pork ribs, a complex noodle and vegetable dish with shrimp and a green bean based veggie dish. Between my wife and I we had some of each. The beans weren't a fit subject for this treatment - overcooked. The other servings were fine.

    The refrigerated cases have plenty of dessert choices - I took a red bean and custard cup. As in most Vietnamese places there is a large variety of fruit drinks. The Ba Le doesn't have a menu -the lunch and dinner choices vary from day to day -depending on what is good at the market. That is an interesting concept, isn't it? :- )

    The Ba Le has a range of take out dishes pre-made in plastic containers. There is a Vietnamese version of Kim Chee - stuffed chicken and beef rolls - stuffed banana leaves - several sorts of spring rolls, noodles with peanut and pork toppings, stuffed crab dishes, stuff I have no idea what it is --- but I will eventually find out :- )

    It fun to get into this food -- then walk by the B&A market for staples - and to see what the latest stuff Trader Joe's has sold them to get rid of. The idea of Ostrich hamburgers in Dorchester is hilarious -but at $2 lb I bought all four pounds. The Trader Joe's salad dressings aren't bad at 75 cents a bottle -and the lime cooler drink for 10 cents a bottle is not to be sneered at. Lots of good-hearted laughs down on funky Dot Ave.