So this site looks a bit different today. Welcome to the new and far less active TedQuarters, I suppose. There are still some kinks to work out, all of which will take me way longer to figure out on my own than they would have with the support of my men Adam Rotter and Matt Cerrone at SNY, so be patient. And because I’m now using a stock WordPress theme, I had to make some concessions in the navigation and sidebars.
Most notably: The “Embarrassing Things about Cole Hamels” section of the blog is now just a “Cole Hamels” tab on the sidebar to the left, as spelling out the full title made the text wrap to two lines and look awful. So it goes. Know that “Cole Hamels,” here, is an abbreviation for “Embarrassing Things about Cole Hamels,” always.
Also: The Sandwich Hall of Fame list is currently a sub-category in the sandwich tab, but it’s too long for the format and you can’t access most of the sandwich reviews from many browsers. Soon, perhaps later this afternoon, I’ll create a new Sandwich Hall of Fame archive page with links to all the Hall of Fame sandwich reviews. So fear not.
Because of the theme switch, the site again uses WordPress comments instead of Disqus, meaning that two full years’ worth of awesome, hilarious, insightful comments are sort of lost to the ether. And it makes every post on this site from 2011-2012 look pretty lonely, so if you stumble upon one you like and want to leave some love, please do.
And thanks so much for all the flattering and supportive comments left on the going-away post from earlier this month. It feels incredible to know that my efforts on this site for the last several years were apparently so thoroughly appreciated. I love you, too.
The sandwich: Banh mi thit nuong, Banh Mi Cart 37, 37 Nguyen Trai, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
The construction: Grilled pork meatballs, pickled vegetables, cucumbers, cilantro, chili paste and some sort of brownish sauce on a baguette.
Important background information: I spent six days in Vietnam and tried seven different banh mi. This was the best, and it wasn’t all that close. Most of the sandwiches came from street carts or slightly glorified street carts, and in Ho Chi Minh City — where I ate the large majority of my banh mi on vacation — most of the street carts sell banh mi filled with various cold cuts, familiar and otherwise. They were all delicious, but once I tried this style, all I wanted were more like this. In fact, about an hour after I had my first, I went back for a second.
Also: Throughout our vacation, my wife and I struggled to convince locals to serve us spicy food. Many European and Australian tourists (and perhaps Americans, too, but we didn’t meet nearly so many), it seems, want no part of typically spicy Thai, Lao or Vietnamese cuisine — something we witnessed to a hilarious extent in a cooking class with some British couples who were put off by the spiciness of ginger and garlic.
So before I carry on, a plea to the Australian dude we met on a boat in Thailand and others like him: Give spicy food a chance, please. You told us you were miffed at all the restrictions they had at the place where they let you in a cage with a tiger. I promise no pepper used in common cooking anywhere presents nearly so much danger, and that developing a taste for more spice will ultimately broaden your culinary horizons and enrich your eating life. I’m not here to tell you what to do; I’m just sayin’s all.
Also, if it catches on, it’ll mean a lot less work on my end in Asia attempting to locate every vendor’s peppers or hot sauces, pointing at them, smiling, nodding vigorously and giving thumbs up. Luckily for us, the woman at the banh mi cart at 37 Nguyen Trai held up a spoonful of chili paste as she constructed the sandwich and shot us a quizzical look, so we were able to point at it, smile, nod vigorously and give thumbs up.
What it looks like:
How it tastes: Awesome. Just… awesome. Everything I could imagine wanting in a banh mi.
The banh mi cart at 37 Nguyen Trai grills tiny pork patties — think seasoned ground-pork sliders — over charcoal on a small barbecue, and there’s enough turnover that every sandwich comes with pork patties hot from the grill. They’re tender and porky, juicy but not greasy, with just a hint of black pepper flavor.
We read somewhere that much of Vietnamese cuisine is fueled by contrasting textures and flavors, a concept that should sound familiar to any loyal readers of these sandwich reviews.
This banh mi seemed the perfect embodiment of that idea: The warm pork and toasty baguette (they threw the baguette on the grill right before they put together the sandwich, a very appreciated touch) complemented the coolness of the vegetables. The intense spiciness of the chili paste matched up with the sweetness of the brown sauce. The sharpness of the cilantro complemented the acidity of the pickled vegetables.
It was crunchy and soft, spicy and sweet, hot and cold, comforting and adventurous, everything. Just an explosion of flavors and textures and general greatness. Damn. I have to go back.
What it’s worth: Oh, that’s the other thing. It cost 14,000 Dong, or about 67 cents. Plus the cost of airfare, of course, unless you’re already in Ho Chi Minh City.
How it rates: 97 out of 100. Inner circle Hall of Famer.