New York City is currently experiencing an exciting banh mi renaissance. Chefs of Vietnamese decent, as well as those who are inspired by Vietnam’s culinary traditions, are taking the humble banh mi and giving it a shiny makeover. In place of the usual mix of cold cuts and head cheeses are thoroughly novel ingredients, like juicy Polish kielbasa and spicy curried beef. In the process of redefining Vietnam’s beloved street food, banh mi has become a household name throughout all five boroughs. Julia Moskin covered this trend last April for the New York Times in her piece “Building on Layers of Tradition.”
While visiting New York, I made it a point to sample a nontraditional Vietnamese sandwich. California is bursting with delis serving banh mi, but I have yet to encounter a shop marching to a uniquely fusion tune. For the time being, New York City is the epicenter of banh mi version 2.0.
An excellent post on Serious Eats brought The Astronomer and me to Xie Xie, Chef Angelo Sosa’s prettily appointed Midtown shop. The offering that caught my eye was the Cha Ca La Vong ($8.75), which is named after a famous Hanoi restaurant that specializes in cha ca Thanh Long. A northern Vietnamese dish, cha ca Thanh Long is comprised of tumeric-marinated fish sauteed over high heat with green onions and fresh dill. I didn’t grow up eating cha ca Thanh Long, but became mildly obsessed with it while living in Vietnam.
Chef Sosa’s cha ca-inspired sandwich was seriously spectacular. Mingling with the generous fillet of turmeric-laced tilapia was Sriracha-infused mayonnaise, a sweet onion jam, and loads of fresh dill. When the sandwich arrived at our table, the smell of fresh herbs smacked us both in the face, just like it did while dining in Hanoi. The toasty baguette kept the fish in place and held onto every last sprig of dill. Of all the amazing foods I ate during my latest journey to New York City, it’s this sandwich that I cannot get out of my mind.
Xie Xie *CLOSED*
645 Ninth Avenue
New York, NY 10036