Wednesday, May 4, 2011 at 9:30 a.m.
I've been talking to a lot of people lately about the Vietnamese influence on Orange County's food. Everything from the fusion French-Vietnamese bistros that only seem to exist in Little Saigon to luxe loncheras like Dos Chinos who fuse Vietnamese and Mexican flavors together.
Usually, the discussion revolves around the Vietnamese influence on non-Vietnamese food; discussions of the non-Vietnamese influence on Vietnamese foods typically are about the dumbing down of traditional Vietnamese dishes.
Then there's the banh mi burger at Pee Wee's Hot Dogs in Huntington Beach.
Yes, that's right--a banh mi burger. It's a hamburger, shaped to fit into a baguette, then dressed Viet-style: cilantro, mint, cucumbers, shaved chiles (jalapeños in this case), do chua (pickled daikon and carrot shreds), mayonnaise, and maybe a touch of Maggi (or maybe that was the marinade on the meat?).
Taken as a whole, it was a success--sort of. The flavor profile screamed banh mi, the baguette was right, the sandwich held together, and the burger itself made for an interesting riff on a xiu mai (meatball) banh mi. With a few tweaks, it'd be a perfect example of the American influence on the Vietnamese sandwich.
First, lose the mint. Whole Foods (and their awful, awful "banh mi") does the mint thing too, which puzzles me; I've been eating banh mi for years and I've never encountered one with mint on it. Cilantro, yes, absolutely; mint, never. It doesn't play well with others.
Second, adjust the salt level. Some of the dressing is salty, which means the burger needs to be adjusted accordingly.
Third, double the amount of do chua on the sandwich; there should be enough that every bite has some do chua in it.
Minor quibbles, to be sure, except for the mint. The hardest part is deciding what side to get--the sweet potato tots? the fancy fries? the best-in-class onion rings?--and whether to go for the homemade lemonade or the lavender limeade. (Pssst... guys... get a beer and wine license. PLEASE.)
How you know it's a damn good sandwich? It costs $5.95 and I'd pay it willingly. That's right--a $6 banh mi I'd actually seek out.
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