The story of... To me, a bánh mì is the perfect sandwich. I don’t think it’s just because I was born in Vietnam, whose people adapted the food of French colonialism to make it all their own. Like filling a baguette, that most identifiable of French breads, with any combination of meats, tofu and vegetables with distinctly Southeast Asian flavors.
What they all have in common, or should, are the slightly sweet pickled carrots and/or daikon radish, cilantro and thin slices of jalapeno — working together to counter the rich flavors in the sandwich. Without them, the sub still may be delicious but not hit exactly the right note.
The bread should be airy and the crust crackly, thanks to a combination of rice and wheat flour, but not too crusty.
When I bite into a bánh mì, I am searching for contrasts — salty and sweet, rich and refreshing, soft and crunchy. They can be cold or warmed. I prefer the latter.
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With that in mind, I set out to find which Whatcom County eatery offered the best bánh mì. I picked restaurants that always had the sandwiches on their menus, rather than places that feature them on a rotating basis.
This is the first of two parts on the bánh mì chow-down. The first two contenders: Avenue Bread and Soy House, both in downtown Bellingham.
Name: Avenue Bread & Deli.
Quick bite: I got the pulled pork bánh mì for $8.95 that used rustic ciabatta bread and came with a side of potato chips.
The bread had been lightly toasted on the inside and was crusty and crunchy. The pork filling was a good balance of salty and sweet, and flecked with slivers of pickled carrot, daikon and cucumber. I got hints of pickled ginger as well. Instead of jalapenos, there was a low burn from a sambal (chili sauce) mayo.
This is a tasty sandwich. It didn’t quite reach the bánh mì standard. For one, I would’ve preferred that the crust not be so sturdy, but given how gooey the pork filling was, a less hardy bread might have fallen apart. And because the flavors were rich, the sub needed bright notes from cilantro along with (my favorite) slices of fresh cucumber.
Name: Soy House Restaurant.
Quick bite: This Vietnamese restaurant has five different bánh mì sandwiches, which come with a side of sweet potato fries or two egg rolls for $8.25. I selected the grilled lemongrass beef, which was served in what looked like a hoagie roll or a bolillo. The filling included a ground-pork spread, butter, cucumber, pickled carrots, cilantro and jalapeno slices.
The bread had a pleasing crunch. The thin slices of beef, which had been marinated, were sweet and savory, although leaning toward being too sweet for my taste. The lemongrass imparted an herby note.
The butter, beef and pork spread combined for a fatty and rich flavor but were complemented by the refreshing taste and texture of the vegetables. Delicious.
This round goes to ... Soy House.
Got suggestions for tasty tidbits in Whatcom County or an eatery known for a particular dish? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-715-2234.