There was an era a few months back when I would read Noodlepie almost nightly for dinner ideas. The Gastronomer was working late, so I was on my own to scour the streets of districts 1 and 3 in search of new dishes, and I found a lot of winners. Once, I stumbled upon a post entitled “Is this the best sandwich in Saigon?” It was about a lady selling banh mi thit nuong in the evenings at 37 Nguyen Trai Street. He writes:
I’ve tried many a sarnie in this mad megalopolis, but this particular specimen is undeniably the bread’s bollocks. Enjoy. I did. Burp.
Of course I had to try it. There are two primary styles of banh mi thit nuong in Saigon—one is nuoc mam-based, while the other is dressed with some version of barbeque sauce. This lady’s sandwich was my first taste of the latter style. The sandwich is simple, just meat, do chua (pickled daikon and carrots), cucumber slices, and barbeque and chili sauce. Being a weakling, I typically decline the chili sauce, but I’ve tried the sandwich spicy a few times and it’s still pretty damn good. The pork pieces are circular—closer in shape and texture to bun cha patties than the meat typically featured in banh mi thit nuong.
On my first visit to the stand, I had to wait 10 to 15 minutes behind a line of motorists and workers from nearby shops to receive my sandwich. This has become a routine—there’s no doubt this lady is popular! She starts selling banh mi and bun thit nuong in the late afternoon and typically runs out of meat by 7:30. It’s no wonder—the sandwiches are awesome. I can’t quite go so far as to proclaim them the best in town (my favorite sandwich vendor in District 4 still has a special place in my heart), but they’re definitely a must try, and two for 14,000 VND is one of the best dinner deals out there.
There are few things I’ll miss more upon leaving Saigon than banh mi thit nuong. This is the dish that almost singlehandedly convinced me that it’s okay to eat meat for breakfast every morning, and on more than one occasion, I’ve eaten three sandwiches in one day. The nuoc mam-flavored variety seems more traditionally Vietnamese to me, while the version with barbeque sauce brings back memories of Alabama. Either way, nothing brings joy to my heart like spotting a miniature grill on a street cart. It’s a sure-fire sign of good times to come.