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What is it about Bahn Mi's that make them so addicting?

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I have to admit, I was hooked with my very first bite 4 years ago. Since I work in Chinatown in Boston it takes every ounce of my being to not eat a Bahn Mi EVERYDAY for lunch. I have successfully been able to limit my addiction to about every 2.5 weeks and not a day longer.

As I sit here today, yes, today is Bahn Mi day, I find myself wondering what exactly is it about this gastronomical delight that causes my intense cravings? Is it that flaky roll, the pickled veggies, the hot pepper, the bbq beef (only kind I eat) or is it that buttery spread that set my taste buds into a tail spin so many years ago? It doesn't help that they are so darn cheap! $3.00- you can't buy anything good to eat for $3.00 anymore!

I would love to hear from others that find themselves with this same addiction (or not)...

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  1. I don't eat pork, so I also have banh mi with out the pork pate or BBQ pork. But I love love love the various non-porcine varieties. For me, I love a banh mi that has the right balance of each ingredient to make it moist and brightly seasoned---Maggi sauce gives good oomph. I especially love places that do in-house Vietnamese style mayonnaise, and have found that this makes or breaks good banh mi for me. Somehow it is a filling sandwich that feels light on the palate with bright flavors and a lot of crunch from the cilantro and vegetables. Just delightful!

    1. Banh mi have everything we love about subs, only with "exotic" tastes. They have more of an emphasis on veggies, with more interesting choices than tasteless shredded lettuce and soggy tomatoes. The pate, butter, and/or mayo make them taste very rich, but they're almost always light and refreshing sandwiches, never heavy nor greasy like the best cheesesteaks and Italian hoagies. Plus they're ridiculously cheap. I work ten minutes from Orlando's large Vietnamese neighborhood with many restaurants and banh mi shops, and I try to save them for rare treats rather than daily or weekly indulgences, but they are just so good!

      2 Replies
      1. re: Big Bad Voodoo Lou

        Can you recommend any places (please)? I live in Melbourne and would love to know a good place to go when I'm out that way.

        1. re: debclark

          All the places are within a few blocks of each other along Colonial Drive, five minutes east of I-4 and downtown Orlando, with a few up Mills Avenue. Boston Bakery (on Colonial) and Ba Le (on Mills) have the most varieties of banh mi, so I'd recommend them both.

          Orlando Weekly magazine did a local taste test back in November, and the results (with contact info for those places and more) are online:

          http://orlandoweekly.com/dining/banh-...

      2. What makes them so addicting? Maybe the MSG?

        Seriously though, I love bahn mi, too, usually not the pork variety. My regular rotation includes salmon, crab salad, chicken curry, and bbq chicken.

        1. Delicious and cheap, thus making the addiction all but painless! I would be having one just about every day if I didn't have to drive about fifteen miles first.

          There's an excellent banh mi place in the same strip mall as our favorite dim sum restaurant, and one Sunday morning while we were outside waiting for our table there was a group of teenagers waiting as well. At one point one of the girls broke off from the group and went into the banh mi store, then came out devouring her little tide-me-over. I was so jealous, remembering when I could eat like that and get away with it …

          1. Frugal as I am, I'd happily pay twice what I pay for the typical bahn mi. I think it's the contrasting flavors and textures. I have the same reaction to other sandwiches if the bread is warm and crusty and the greens cold and crisp, with a creamy condiment.

            2 Replies
            1. re: greygarious

              I'm with greygarious as to what makes a good sandwich in general. As for banh mi, I think its all the sugar in the mayo, pickled veggies, and the bbq sauce that makes them addicting.

              1. re: greygarious

                I can't get over how inexpensive they are, too, and some places near me have the buy 3 or 4, get one free.

              2. I'm lucky enough to have a great vietnamese place near my home, yay! For me, it's always been the simple satifaction of shoveling a big old sandwich in your mouth, but knowing that all the veggies hold some nutritional value.

                1. Since having a banh mi a week ago, the appeal of vegetables on sandwiches has been irresistable. I put some sliced radish, onion, and cold leftover sauteed bok choy on a grilled cheese with bacon. With both carrots and daikon on hand, I searched for recipes for the pickled slaw that is used in banh mi - during that pursuit, I came across this handy site:
                  http://battleofthebanhmi.com/ It has recipes, recommendations of banh mi places organized by state/region, etc.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: greygarious

                    Here's Nguyen's carrot/daikon recipe. It keeps for FOUR WEEKS! I've been using it in, on and with a number of things.

                    http://www.vietworldkitchen.com/blog/...

                    1. re: c oliver

                      Same recipe I used, though from a different site! I made almost 2 quarts, and am tempted to add garlic greens to some of it, to see if they hold up or turn slimy.

                      1. re: greygarious

                        I added some microscopic :) slivers of Thai chiles.

                        1. re: c oliver

                          Try it on a veggie burger=Awesomeness.

                  2. IMO, it's the synergy of EVERYTHING involved. It wouldn't be a Banh Mi if there were no pickled veg., no cilantro, no delicious layers of salty, sweet savory combined goodness. It's the whole thing. It's the bread, when the bread is correct. It's the dressing. Its... It's like, what makes chicken noodle soup so good? The chicken and the noodles! Otherwise it's just...broth! (Not that there's anything wrong with just broth, 'cause god knows I use enough of it on a daily basis to float a tugboat...)

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: mamachef

                      I agree--I think it's the synergy of the contrasts. Sweet, salty, spicy; crunchy, smooth; warm (for the ones that are)/cold. We could just start w/ the bread alone and have a long thread talking about the wonders of that. I also can't imagine a banh mi w/out all it comes with, even the cilantro helps make it.

                    2. The pâté and the pickled veggies.

                      It's an unbeatable synergistic combination.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        All right, Ipse: now you've done it. For reals.

                        An unbeatable synergistic combination
                        Bread, meat, spread; a great fruition
                        All I can say is (deleted) whoopee!
                        As I put myself around a big Banh Mi.
                        : )
                        A poem. By me. I think I'm turning into someone else.

                        1. re: mamachef

                          ... you must be FoodFuser's "mama"!

                      2. I don't know, but as soon as I read your post, I had to run out to get one. Actually, I think it is that they are so flavorful.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Just Visiting

                          Why do you want to limit yourself to 1 every 2.5 weeks. Its cheap. Its yummy. Its not fried or processed. Live a little! ;)

                        2. I am fortunate to work in Northern Virginia where there is a large Vietnamese community. As of this writing, there are six decent Pho places within 5 minutes' drive, and two Banh Mi places. My haircutter is half vietnamese and his favorite Banh Mi happens to be one of the two near work (Ba Le). For him, he likes the fact that they bake their bread right in the shop. For me, it's the fact that the sandwiches cost only $3.50 for an extra long, and the shop is open 24 hours -- I can grab one on the way home on nights I work late.

                          10 Replies
                          1. re: MartinDC

                            There's a Ba Le in NOVA? Didn't know that. Hope it is better than the one on Rockville Pike, which is dreadful. I wandered in there two weeks ago, thinking it might be a cousin of the famous Chicago Ba Le. They use the same logo. Apparently, a long time ago it was, but then it was sold. They were out of half of everything, and had they been out of all of everything, I would have been better off. The bread was mushy and stale at the same time, the meat was truly mystery meat. The chicken did not resemble chicken and the pork was some odd bright pink stuff. The veggies were flavorless and not at all crisp. It was a serious waste of a few bucks.

                            We went to Song Que and it was wonderful.

                            By the way, OP, it is banh mi, not bahn mi.

                            1. re: Just Visiting

                              That's funny, because when I read this post, I thought, hmmm, there used to be a Ba Le in Austin, too. Ba is a granny and Le is a name, so it means Granny Le. So many Granny Le's peddling their banh mi? I suspect that this is another case of a Vietnamese place becoming well loved in California, which is where many Vietnamese resto trends start, and non-franchise copy cat places that bloomed elsewhere to capitalize on the name and fame in the Vietnamese community. That is, if the original Ba Le is in California. It could be the original is from Chicago. I have occasionally heard stories about Vietnamese places having to change their names because the original owners found out about the doppelganger restaurant and sued.

                              1. re: luckyfatima

                                Being that Vietnamese can be such a confusing language at times with all of its crazy accents, but "Ba" in Ba Le doesnt actually mean granny. "Ba" the way it is pronounced means 3 and "Le" represents a name (coincidentally, that is also my last name :D).

                                But back to the topic, I would have to agree that it is mainly the combination between the light and pickled veggies, freshness of the cilantro and jalepenos, crisp crunchy crust, and savoury meats (whether it be the cold cuts or sate beef, chicken etc...) that makes it SOOO tasty. I have one almost every week for lunch at school. However, the prices here have been slowly increasing over the years. Most places charge at least $4.50 + for a sub, and in downtown at the more *upscale* places, prices can range from $6-8 which in my mind is just ridiculous.

                                1. re: Roarasaur

                                  Yes I do speak a bit of Vietnamese and am aware that "ba" can mean a number of things depending on the diacritic marks representing the tones on the word. I never bothered to look at which marks were on Ba Le and all these years just assumed it was grandmother ba. Three Le's? Thanks for the correction. I wonder what the significance of the 3 Le's is. It doesn't say on the Ba Le Chicago website.

                                  1. re: luckyfatima

                                    Here's an old thread with some background on the Ba Le name.
                                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/269669

                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                      That was a fascinating thread, down to being able to get a banh mi for $1.25 back in 2002.

                                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                                        Aaah, now it makes sense. 3rd Child Le's sandwiches! Thanks Melanie. That thread from The Best is very interesting.

                                  2. re: luckyfatima

                                    Interesting. There's a Ba Le near me in the East Bay. It's certainly not the original anything, though. Just a hole in the wall with tasty sandwiches.

                                    1. re: Glencora

                                      We have a Ba Le in Orlando's Vietnamese neighborhood too. I used to think it was the best banh mi spot in town, until I discovered the oddly-named Boston Bakery, which is far superior.

                                2. re: MartinDC

                                  Verrry innarresting! (all this about Ba Le, that is) There is a Tan Ba Le in Houston and I happen to think they're the best banh mis, at least of the dozen or so I've tried (and there are probably 100 or so places). The artwork on the business card features either 3 chefs wearing toques leaping over a baguette or they may be rabbits wearing aprons, I can't determine what the drawings are supposed to be.

                                  The place's most popular dish, the house special, however, is Bo Ne, 'sizzling steak and eggs served with salad, pate and baguette.' I tried the banh mi on my first visit however and have never gotten past them.

                                3. I had never had a Bánh mì sandwich but when I saw this topic I decided to try one, despite not being a fan of cilantro or cucumber.

                                  Since March I've tried them three times at various places where I would usually get the Phở Bò. I love the crunchy baguette, the mayo, and the marinated grilled pork.

                                  1. The balance--flavors and textures and quantities. A Dagwood banh mi would not have the charm of a restrained banh mi.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Erika L

                                      I think this is a big part of it--it's small enough that you can get a little bit of everything in one bite. A Dagwood sandwich is unmanageable where you get a bite of one thing or maybe another but can't get the right proportions. None of those extreme sandwiches seem appealing to me.