Banh Mi is always a good idea, but I’ve never tried making my own at home. Even though there are a bunch of places in Singapore that sell Vietnamese sandwiches now, I came back from LA with a couple of Vietnamese ham rolls so I thought why not make banh mi at home. The star item in this homemade banh mi is also Nem Nuong, which is Vietnamese grilled pork sausage-meatball hybrid.
Banh mi is a staple during my college years, because it’s cheap, delicious, and very filling. Used to be only US$2 a pop, and I’d get mine from a tiny little hole-in-the-wall store underneath Brooklyn Bridge in Chinatown – touted as the best back then (circa early nineties) by ever Vietnamese person I knew. That store was seriously tiny, it could only fit five people max and don’t even think of stretching your arms in there coz you’d knock stuff and people over. The inter-Chinatown bus heading towards Boston used to designate the spot in front of this banh mi shop as passenger pickup/dropoff point, so folks used to get ten banh mi’s at one go… maybe to munch on during the 4 hour bus ride or something, I dunno, all I know is if I didn’t get there before noon even on any given day, chances are they’d be sold out and shop’s closed.
What made the banh mi at this shop really special to me was the grilled pork sausage-meatball hybrid inside the sandwich. Crumbly, crusty, sometimes slightly charred on the edges, it’s sweet, toothsome like jerky, and downright delectable. I recall this delicious aroma would permeate every corner of the shop, spilling outside onto the sidewalk, enticing everyone who’d walk by. And because the shop was so small, I remember very clearly seeing portable toaster ovens that were lined against the wall, the makeshift counter, the ledge, wherever there was space, and inside were aluminium foil container after container of this pork sausage-meatball hybrid gently baking under a warm orangey-red glow.
At the time I didn’t know it had a name, I only just found out that this delicious Vietnamese grilled pork sausage/meatball is called Nem Nuong. As is my habit when it comes to missing a particular food, I made it so that it’ll tide me over before I can get to eat the real thing back in the US. (That sentence sounds a wee strange, right? It’d be quicker for me to fly to Vietnam to sink my teeth into a banh mi there, but no, I have to have it back in the US?!)
Part 1: NEM NUONG
Vietnamese Grilled Pork Sausage-Meatball
1.5 lbs ground pork
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 Tbsp fish sauce
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup water
1 drop red food coloring (optional)
Combine pork, garlic, salt, pepper, fish sauce and sugar in mixing bowl and mix well. In separate bowl, stir baking powder into water. Add drop of food coloring, if desired. Fold this liquid into the meat mixture and smash mixture a couple times (this will create a bouncy texture in the ground meat). Allow meat mixture to chill for at least half hour 1 hr or longer. before forming patties, balls or mini sausages. In the video I place the meat mixture into a rectangular baking dish and cooked it over low heat in a toaster oven. Otherwise, you can use an indoor grill or BBQ grill to cook it.
Part 2: DO CHUA
Pickled Carrots and Daikon
4 medium sized carrots, peeled and julienned
1 medium daikon radish, peeled and julienned
4 teaspoons of sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup high-quality vinegar (or white vinegar)
1.5 cup warm water
1 cup agave syrup (or sugar)
In a large bowl, sprinkle carrots and daikon with sugar and salt. Toss until well coated. Continue to mix the carrots and daikon with your hands until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. They are ready once you can bend a piece of daikon all the way over without it breaking. Transfer the carrots and daikon to a colander, rinse with cool water and drain well. Mix together vinegar, agave syrup and warm water. Pack the daikon and carrots tightly into the jars. Pour over the pickling liquid to cover. Seal and refrigerate overnight.
Part 3: BANH MI ASSEMBLY
Banh Mi Nem Nuong
Maggi Soy Sauce
Got this Vietnamese ham roll duo during one of my supermarket sprees in SoCal and I carried them back to Singapore. Pork meat loaf with pork skin, ZOMG for the love of porcine gluttony hallelujaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah sweet baby Jesus praise the Lord.
As I took a bite out of my homemade banh mi, which came out really good btw despite its lackluster appearance. Not as spectacular as the ones I grew up eating, of course, but good enough for a light lunch at home.
While we’re on this topic of banh mi, I’m going to include here all the banh mi photos that I’ve taken in recent years from here and there:
Num Pang, NYC
Daily Bread, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Joju, Elmhurst, NY
Joju, Elmhurst, NY
Banh Mi Huynh Hoa, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Banh Mi Saigon, NYC
Xe May Sandwich Shop, NYC
Lee’s Sandwich, Garden Grove, CA
Top Baguette, Westminster, CA
Top Baguette, Westminster, CA
Unknown street vendor somewhere in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (my friend Cara hand-carried half a dozen for me when she visited SG, thank you! *muaks*)
Last but not least, pre-made Nem Nuong is sold in Asian supermarkets in Cali and can be found in the frozen section so I did what any normal human being would do, ie. pick up a couple of packs, stuff it into my suitcase, and haul them back to Singapore. }:) Next trip to US, I’m bringing back headcheese. And then I’ll use it to make more banh mi, hur hur hur.