March 21, 2008
187 Co Giang Street
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Bánh mì hấp (20,000)
Bún thịt nướng (15,000)
In search of lunch the other week in an unfamiliar section of District 1, The Astronomer and I were lured by the smell of grilled meats wafting through the air. There is no shortage of barbecued animal protein in Saigon, but on this particular afternoon, I found the smoky scent particularly tempting.
I asked the gentleman closest to the storefront what dishes were on offer and he responded bun thit nuong and banh mi hap. We parked our motorbike, pulled up a seat, and ordered two bowls of bun and one order of banh mi hap.
The Astronomer and I are very familiar with bun thit nuong, but we had no idea what banh mi hap was. The literal translation of the dish is “steamed bread.”
The bun thit nuong arrived first. The bowls were piled high with herbs, bean sprouts, lettuce, barbecued pork, scallion oil, crushed peanuts, pickled carrots and daikon, and a messy tangle of cool rice vermicelli noodles. Nuoc mam (fish sauce vinaigrette) was served in a small plastic container on the side.
Of all the bowls of bun thit nuong I’ve downed in my days (trust me, there have been plenty), the meat in this one was definitely the best. Sorry, Mom. Marinated in sugar, garlic and fish sauce, the flavors permeated the pork and caramelized to perfection on the hot grill. The ratios of meat to fat and charred to cooked was also just right.
The banh mi hap arrived soon after. Thick slices of day-old bread came topped with thit bo xao—thinly sliced beef and onions sauteed in garlic and fish sauce. The bread soaked up the meaty juices like a deconstructed French dip sandwich.
The banh mi hap was served with herbs, large romaine lettuce leaves and nuoc mam for rolling and dipping, but I preferred to eat it au naturale to fully taste the beef, onions and bread. Hearty and delightful, I’m surprised there aren’t more dishes in Vietnamese cuisine that make use of stale baguettes.