The banh mi sandwich (originally known as Banh Tay) was conceived as a substitute for simple Parisian sandwiches of pate and butter, consumed by French colonists and wealthy Vietnamese in late 19th century Saigon. While it was renamed Banh Mi in 1945, signalling the acceptance of bread as a main staple in addition to the all important rice, it was not until the end of French rule of Indochina in 1954 that the Vietnamese began to incorporate their own ingredients including pickled vegetables, cilantro and fresh chiles. By adopting some colonial leftovers, (baguette and mayonnaise), and by enhancing them with traditional Vietnamese flavours, this lunchtime street food stalwart cleverly mimics the classic Vietnamese trait of always looking forwards towards the future instead of being mired in the past. Best eaten with a bia hoi or two on the streets of Hoi An, try to find a Huda or Hanoi beer to pair with the spicy Sriracha mayo, marinated grilled chicken and crisp pickled veggies. For an extra bit of crunch, sprinkle a bit of crushed peanuts on top.
Grilled Chicken Banh Mi (Serves 4)
2 tbl rice vinegar
1 tbl soy sauce
1 tbl sesame oil
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp mirin
250 g carrot, peeled and sliced into very thin slices
200 g radish, thinly sliced
2 scallion, thinly sliced, white part only
1 red chile, thinly sliced
60 g homemade mayonnaise
Sriracha, to taste
1/2 cucumber, sliced
8 coriander sprigs, ripped into pieces
2 mint sprigs, ripped into pieces
30 peanuts for garnish (if desired)
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees C. Whisk together the marinade ingredients together in a small bowl, pour into a resealable plastic bag and add the chicken breasts. Turn to coat and refrigerate for at least 3-4 hrs.
- Whisk together all the liquid pickling ingredients, submerge the carrots, radish, scallion and red chile and refrigerate for at least 40 min- overnight.
- Remove the chicken from the marinade and grill on each side for 6-7 min or until just cooked through, transfer to a plate, cover and let rest for 3- 4 min. Cut into strips.
- Season the mayonnaise with Sriracha to taste (you’ll probably need at least 7-8 drops). Place the baguettes in the oven for 3-5 min until the the outside is nice and crispy, alternatively you could grill it. Split the baguettes when they come out of the oven. Roast the peanuts for a few minutes in the oven, turning over once. Crush in a mortar.
- To assemble: spread the Sriracha mayo on both sides of the baguette. On the bottom, add the fresh cucumber slices, fresh chile, grilled chicken slices and pickled vegetables. Drizzle a bit of lime juice and garnish with the ripped coriander, mint and crushed peanuts (if desired). Close the sandwiches and serve with a cold bia or a lovely cup of Vietnamese coffee!