Wednesday, April 29, 2009
The Road To Bánh Mì
My allergies have been getting the best of me, but I braved the pollen and joined Eric on a culinary expedition. After winding our way around the Greenwood Cemetery we went the wrong way (several times) through Boro Park under the elevated subway tracks. Eventually we found ourselves in Brooklyn's China Town in the heart of Sunset Park. Somewhere among Asian grocery stores, windows with preserved duck, and street vendors we found our way to Thanh Da 2 at 8th Avenue and 56th street. We were stalking the elusive bánh mì.
How do I best describe a bánh mì? Long story short it's a Vietnamese Cuban-style sandwich — but the best one you've ever had. Thanh Da 2 is an unsuspecting mom n' pop shop with much to offer. As you enter you pass stacks of durian fruit cookies and peanut candies. the temple of Zao Jun, the Kitchen God, is proudly displayed on the back wall. A large plastic Maneki Neko greats patrons from the refrigerator as they sit by the wall counter waiting for their orders. Their menu addresses customers in Vietnamese, Chinese, and English, as it was in Blade Runner. Most people order ahead and pick up as they run their lunch errands.
Sandy, the shop manager, made us two of the house sandwiches (the Thanh Da Bánh Mì #1) filled with three — count 'em — THREE kinds of pork with all the fixin's. I got the spicy one with jalapeños. We also got some shakes, Eric had a papaya and I had avocado, one never knows how spicy these sandwiches will get. Sandy asked if I was Asian, I said "Well... not really." We Pacificos are not considered Asian because we're too many generations removed from any particular nationality— and too ethnically mixed. As I explained to a co-worker one day "You know how Eskimos aren't really Chinese? Such as it goes." Sandy is of Chinese decent but her family has been in Vietnam for generations.
The sandwiches take about 1o minutes to make, the bread is gently heated first, and then stuffed with generous layers of cold smoked pork, roasted pork, or a preserved dried pork. For me it's all about the bread — a wheat and rice flour baguette that's soft and spongy on the inside but a golden, crisp and flaky on the outside. Typically it's filled with layers of shredded pickled carrot and radish, onion, cucumber, cilantro, glass noodles, fresh green chili, and a secret weapon — Vietnamese mayonnaise. Each bite has it's own flavor and texture.
Thanh Da 2 has received glowing reviews from the New York Times, Chow Hound, Yelp, and few other reliable sources. Eric told Sandy he'd review their shop on his show Garden Fork. But the best testament to their success is their food. What can be better than the perfect bánh mì? Another one for later, booya! As the name implies, there is a Thanh Da 1, which is a broth and noodle shop. Another culinary adventure awaits us.