Teach Me About Banh Mi [Split from California board thread]
Second things first: those little balls are called, variously: boba, QQ or tapioca, and they're just that -- tapioca boiled with a little sugar until it becomes mushy and soft and sweet. You suck it through an extra-wide straw. College students everywhere seem to consume it by the gallon.
As for banh mi (which is pronounced "bahn mee" in case you didn't know), they're Vietnamese because they're French baguette sandwiches filled with Vietnamese ingredients -- a result of France's long colonisation of Vietnam. All banh mi have pickled carrots and radish, chile peppers and cilantro, and most have garlic or soy mayonnaise. Then you pick your meat.
You'll see several kinds on most places' menus, and you'll have to pardon my pronunciation guides, it's hard to make it into English:
Dac biet (dahk byett) -- "house special", which usually has a pate spread, white ham, and grilled pork
Thit nguoi (thitt ngwoy) -- mixed cold cuts
Bo nuong (baw nerng) / thit bo nuong (thitt baw nerng) -- grilled beef
Thit nuong (thitt nerng) / thit heo nuong (thitt hey-aw nerng) -- grilled pork
Cha lua (chah lewya) -- Viet meatloaf (usually pork, usually pink)
Xiu mai (seeyew migh) -- Chinese meatloaf
Nem nuong (nemm nerng) -- pork meatballs
Ga nuong (gah nerng) -- grilled chicken
Xa xiu (sah seeyew) -- barbecued pork
Bi (bee) -- shredded pork
Bo ragu (baw rahgoo) -- stewed beef (tomatoey)
Ka ri ga (kah ree gah) -- curried chicken
Ka ri de (kah ree zeh) -- curried goat
Ca moi (cah moy) -- sardine
Hot ga op la (hut gah upp lah) -- egg sunnyside up
Bo kho -- beef stew (not tomatoey)
If you're getting them to go, have them put the vegetables on the side so the bread doesn't get soggy.
Banh mi is bread with stuff on it. "Banh" = "pain", French for bread if you didn't know, and yes, the Vietnamese bread is a very good copy of the French baguette. The menu boards in a banh mi place will give you some guidance as to what's going on it, of which there is quite a range. Basic to most of them is an array of delicate pickled vegetables, on which is laid the meats of choice. My favorite is the "meat loaf", really a jellied loaf much like head cheese, and then whatever else might come with that item on the establishment's menu. I don't know enough to specify any custom modifications, but everything I've tried has been better than just tasty, and really, really cheap.
Just guessing that those "pearls" are tapioca balls. Not my cup of tea, if I may say so...