It is said that the 4th Earl of Sandwich, John Montague, invented the modern-day sandwich when he requested his meat be placed between two pieces of bread during a card game. Thereby, allowing this British statesman to partake in his meal whilst not affecting the fluidity of the game. Seeing such a brilliant move led those around him to order ‘what the Earl of Sandwich is having’ and walla! The sandwich was born and everybody cheered. Well, they probably didn’t cheer – but we can cheer now as if we were there celebrating the dawn of a new era in the art of eating whilst doing something else. The sandwich, by default of it’s nature, is quite literally boundless in possibility because the only real stipulation in calling something a sandwich is that it comes between two pieces of bread.
Paula Dean went so far as to put lasagna on a roll and call it a lasagna sandwich! College kids far and wide have stretched the limitations of sandwichdom to include any and all leftovers, allowing for a meal on the go without any extra labor. In college I was known to put some salsa and corn chips between two slices of bread as my ‘grab n’ go’ sandwich in between classes. As a growing kid I would rush home from school and whip myself up a Dorito sandwich, which consisted of a handful of cool ranch Doritos smashed between two pieces of white bread. Whether you like it or not – these all qualify as bonafide sammies.
But then there are sandwiches that have risen above mediocrity to exist in a world all their own. Sandwiches so pleasurable to eat that you find yourself craving them day after day, year after year.
A perfect grilled cheese, a vinegary Italian sub with the works, a great egg salad, roast beef piled high with a smearing of mustard, butter and ham, mozzarella and tomato, deep fried soft shell crab, po boys, cuban sandwiches squished down by a brick, cheddar cheese and avocado layered with sprouts ; all fantastic sandwiches they make. No doubt about it. They are so classic and delicious that we often take them for granted, ordering them for lunch like they are no big deal. Well, I’m here to say that sandwiches are a BIG deal. And should be treated with the respect they deserve.
Which is why when I woke up craving a Banh Mi sandwich I knew there was no reason in fighting it. I would make Banh Mi sandwiches for brunch and they would be fantastic.
The Banh Mi as we know it today is a relic of French Colonialism in Vietnam. In fact “Banh Mi” literally means all kinds of bread in Vietnamese. While the French influence gave them the individual baguette slathered with butter and topped with ham or pate. The Vietnamese adopted this sandwich, transforming it with pickled vegetables, mayonnaise, cilantro and spicy chilis. Thereby launching this simple sandwich into a world of salty, sour, spicy, crunchy, tangy, deliciousness that we are all able to enjoy today.
Many versions involve copious amounts of pork in a variety of forms, pate’d, cured, smoked, ground, cooked, cold etc. And while I love it, I also have a soft spot in my heart for the tofu version. I fell in love with this sandwich while living around the corner from famed Banh Mi spot Hanco’s in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. No matter how hard I try I will never be able to match the magic of that sandwich, so instead I simply do what I can to satisfy the craving in my belly.
If you have never had this sandwich and you live somewhere with a Vietnamese community I would recommend finding a place that makes it and going there to experience the pleasure right away. If that is not in the cards or you want to try your hand at home – I say go for it. If you live in Tel Aviv come to Cafe Xoho and order one. We are making them this week and sporadically throughout the year for all to enjoy.
Tofu Banh Mi
1 block firm tofu
2 carrots julienned
1 cucumber julienned
1 kohlrabi julienned (traditionally this should be daikon – which we actually have now in the shuk! but i made this sandwich on a saturday when most things are closed)
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup warm water
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
veggie oil for frying
large pinch of chili flakes or 1/2 birdseye chili sliced thin
french baguette if you can get it. sadly, we went with the shitty pillowy rolls that were available this morning at the super market 🙁
Start by slicing your tofu 1/3″ thick. Place on paper towels to soak up the liquid, set aside.
In a bowl, mix the vinegar, sugar, salt, chili and water together (the warm water will help dissolve the sugar into the solution).
Add in your julienned vegetables and toss them around, place in the fridge until you are ready.
Heat a wok with a small pool of oil until just before smoking. Toss in your slices of tofu in a single layer and allow them to sizzle and crisp-ify. Remove to paper towels once golden browned on both sides.
Toast your bread (which is hopefully of much higher quality than mine). Slather lovingly with mayo and sriracha – feel free to use a heavy hand with these condiments as they are incredible and only enhance the overall experience.
Slice your still warm tofu into strips and layer on the sandwich. Top with a healthy handful of pickled veggies and an even healthier pile of cilantro. Close and enjoy. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD I COULD EAT ANOTHER ONE RIGHT NOW!!!