Houston is the most diverse city in America and happens to have one of the largest Vietnamese populations in the US (last time I checked ranked #4 with the largest population outside of California). The Vietnamese neighborhoods are centered largely in Little Saigon in Midtown and Chinatown in Bellaire. As it turns out, I attended high school in Chinatown and was quite immersed in the Asian food culture. I’d leave water polo practice starved and craving egg rolls as I had just swam outside and had smelled the sesame oil wafting over the buildings for 2+ hours. For off campus lunch, the high school student’s budget permitted me to indulge in bubble tea, fried rice, and—of course—bánh mì.
Quick, cheap and flavorful—lawd knows how many times I frequented one of the local eateries on Bellaire Boulevard to get a bánh mì sandwich. Traditionally filled with pork, chicken, or tofu, these tasty Vietnamese sandwich are a beautiful marriage of crunchy baguettes with pickled veggies, a creamy spread and a spicy jalapeño kick.
When I went away to college in the Midwest, I craved the incredible food diversity that Houston has to offer—Subway and Starbucks on campus can only do so much…so naturally I came up with a recipe that could bring a little bit of spice to the bland offerings on campus—without the need for specialty market ingredients. And today I share my creation with you. I adapted my meal from this recipe, but for a healthier option, I chose to substitute in marinated tofu and use wheat rolls instead of white.
THE SANDWICH: wheat baguettes + marinated tofu + pickled veggies + special sauce + fixins
THE RECIPE: Serves 4.
For the marinated tofu:
- 1 package of frozen tofu cut into one inch thin slices
- ½ c sesame oil
- ½ c soy sauce
- 1 Tsp five Chinese spices
- ½ Tsp garam masala
- 1 Tsp ginger
- 1 Tsp diced garlic
- 1 Tsp chopped green onion (fresh from my garden!)
- black pepper
- a dash of vegetable stock
Simmer on the stove for until the tofu is fully cooked through. Then bake in the oven at 400F for about 5 minutes to get the tofu crispy.
- 1 c shredded carrots
- 1 sliced and seeded cucumber
- 1 c apple cider vinegar
- 1 c water
- dash of diced red onion
Let marinade for about an hour.
For the special sauce:
- ½ c mayo
- 1 Tsp sesame oil
- 2 Tsp melted butter
- dash of soy sauce
For the fixins on the side*:
- fresh cilantro
- a slice of jalapeño
- green onion stalk
*So good. Not optional. Totally imperative for the integrity and cohesion of the sandwich.
Slice the wheat baguettes and toast briefly in the oven. Assemble the sandwich and enjoy. Sriracha sauce should also be available for those who need more kick than what a jalapeño provides.
FUN FACT: Back in the day, Vietnam was a French colony, hence the incorporation of French baguettes into the dish.
Want to try some bánh mì but don’t care to make it at home? It’s easy quick and cheap. Houston Press awarded Café TH for the best bánh mì Houston in 2013. I’ve recently moved to Midtown and word on the street is Les Grivals is the place to be. I’ve tried a tofu bánh mì at Simply Pho because it’s close–not bad. But the winner for best $3 ever spent in my heart always, always, always goes to Don Cafe & Sandwich located on the infamous Bellaire Boulevard.