Tag Archives: Baguette

Banh mi, for you and me (1)

On the weekend, I spent 2 days (and $50) making a pork roll that sells for $4.

It wasn’t just any pork roll. It was the roll with a cult following around the world – bánh mì.

An ode to bánh mì

Bánh mì is a Vietnamese culinary institution, and a culinary legacy of the French colonial era in Vietnam. It starts with a Vietnamese take on the French baguette made with rice and wheat flours, chunky pork liver pâté and creamy mayonnaise. Add handfuls of fresh herbs, crunchy pickles, and meat filling (3 types of luncheon meat, or grilled pork, or meatballs, or red braised pork). Finish with red chillies and a splash of dipping sauce or fish sauce (diagram showing bánh mì with luncheon meat below, borrowed from New York Times). The result is a hybrid of flavours that is somehow quintessentially Vietnamese, unexpectedly flavoursome, and addictive. 

NY banh mi

These baguettes are a popular lunch in the CBD, and a cluster of Vietnamese takeaway shops sell dozens and dozens of them to office workers. The people behind the counters work so quickly and deftly, their actions are like a stylised dance: cut baguettes, smear pâté and mayonnaise, layer meats, herbs, cucumber, pickles, a generous splash of savoury seasoning, and a random handful of chopped chilli – the degree of spiciness varies wildly from mild to painful.

I could go on about bánh mì for hours.

Making bánh mì, for you and for me

A leisurely Sunday lunch with friends was a chance to serve DYI bánh mì. I bought Vietnamese baguettes from a Vietnamese bakery, and made everything else from scratch: pickles (carrots, onions, daikon), pâté, mayonnaise, braised pork belly, and sweet-savoury-chilli seasoning.

This was a fun idea. Everyone built their own bánh mì. For some friends, they were revisiting an old favourite that they have eaten many times in Vietnam. For other friends, this was their first encounter with the iconic snack.

Even better, each home made component was a stand out in its own right.

pate1

The pâté was just gamey enough in taste to be interesting. It was textured (rustic?), thick, yet easy to spread and creamy to taste. It used relatively little butter, and was finished with a good splash of cognac to provide a little extra oh-la-la. Spread on thin slices of (French) baguette with a tiny smear of raspberry jam, the pate also made quick and satisfying canapes.

The mayonnaise was a delicate yellow, silky smooth, so light yet tasting like a million dollars of rich. It was utterly different from the dense, stodgy stuff we find in shops. I think it converted a couple of confirmed mayonnaise haters including Mr Gander, who (as it turns out) has never had home made mayonnaise before.

mayo2

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Another great baguette quest

Baguettes. The symbol of Paris and a cause of the French Revolution.

I still remember tasting a really good baguette, hot from the oven, during our Paris stopover. This was after a couple of weeks in the Languedoc region, where we stayed in a rambling stone house in a village and I went wild for artichokes, slow-braised rabbit, salty crumbly roquefort cheese, baked camembert, and the freshest platter of oysters, mussels and other seafood in the small seaside town (where we sat by the shore and looked onto the oyster beds). During that time, we had good bread – but the cheese and seafood stood out for me.

Then, we landed in Paris for 1.5 days en route to Italy by the night train. On our only afternoon in the city, I saw a boulangerie on a street corner. A long-ish queue was forming – we had unwittingly stumbled on bread o’clock – and there was a warm yeasty smell of crispy crust and light chewy crumb in the air. When I got to the front of the queue, I asked for a baguette and (miraculously) had almost correct change. The woman smiled indulgently at my open-eyed tourist-y demeanor and quickly moved onto the next customer.

The baguette was warm and fragrant in my hands. Outside the boulangerie, I couldn’t resist breaking off a piece and tasting it.

It was, I was certain, the tastiest bread I had ever had.

It was above all a beautiful white bread, because there was a sweet delicate taste that lingered. Yet the dough may have had a little sourdough starter, because it had a toothsome savoury note that gave it body (unlike the airy, almost bland samples we had found in the previous two weeks). It must have been properly fermented, because there was so much flavour that match the heady scent and begged to be savoured. Even though many, many people had told us it is rude to eat in the street, I kept breaking off more pieces of the baguette all the way back to our modest hotel. Mr Gander was a little horrified at my social faux pas.

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