And so On Sandwiches’ Month of Bánh Mì concludes, having featured 23 sandwiches across four cities. The highlights, largely focusing on philosophy:
- Bánh Mì Zòn – Authenticity, clean floors, and pork patties.
- The Vegetarian Bánh Mì – Art, tragedy, and inherently unfulfilled potential.
- Lee’s Sandwiches – Franchizes, the future, and the horrors of inconsistency.
- Bun Mee – Good design, juicy steak, and a more upbeat vision of the future.
- Saigon Vietnamese / Bánh Mì Saigon – New questions, an unsettling feeling, and a challenge to the throne.
Putting philosophy aside to focus on quality, I’d say the best bánh mì in San Jose is at Thien Huong. The best bánh mì in San Francisco is at Saigon Sandwich, unless you’re already familiar with the sandwich. In that case head to Bun Mee. In New York City, until someone proves otherwise, I’m saying Bánh Mì Saigon is the best. I put less stock in that recommendation than I used to, but I’m not willing to jettison it quite yet.
I hope that as readers you were entertained, but perhaps more importantly I hope that I have done justice to the sandwich. I believe that the bánh mì is a genuinely special sandwich amongst the innumerable sandwiches that exist or that any of us may dream up. It seems more delicate somehow, the balance more precarious. It’s never piled high, so rarely ostentatious, a simple but flexible archetype that allows considerable variation in kind, quality, and construction. So much of culinary history in America involves foreign foods, flavors and ideas slowly moving into the country at larger, shifting as they do, gradually ascending to whatever perch they deserve. The bánh mì isn’t there yet, but anyone who takes a good long look can see that’s where it’s headed. It’s too good not to, and all of us are lucky to be here, today, enjoying these sandwiches even before their nascent glory. They aren’t a secret, not even close, but they’re miles away from popular. It’s less than rational and a little elitist to say so, but I think that gives them a little something special. Next time you sit down to enjoy a bánh mì, count your blessings that you live where they’re available. Smile at your fortune, and savor everything that sandwich can possibly offer. I know that’s what I’ll be doing.