Banh mi at the food truck on Wall Street

I sorely miss Banh mi’s in Dubai. In fact, my memories of Baoguette and Banh mi Saigon (strangely located at the back of a Chinatown jewellery store. Only in New York.) set off such an intense craving for Banh mi’s far across the ocean that I finally attempted an experimental sandwich creation in Dubai, hoping to stave off my tummy gnawings until my next trip to the city.

So here I am, at a banh mi food truck on the cross of Water and John streets in the financial district, in the pouring rain and nasty cold without so much as a decent jacket (in clear defiance of NYC’s decidedly late start for the summer) – but all is fair in the quest for the perfect tummy-satiating sandwich. My trusty fellow-foodie friend, who’s slunk out of work so she can lead the way to this banh mi street cart, claims that it has the best, most crunchiest baguette in the city.  We plan to take refuge from the rain by crashing the Starbucks opposite the cart as soon as our sandwiches are ready. Since I don’t eat pork, I get the “shredded chicken w/ onions” banh-mi while my friend gets her usual veggie banh-mi with “5 kinds of vegetables” as noted on the felt-tipped whiteboard menu (strange how a majority of my foodie friends are either veggie or are converting to vegetarianism. Worry not, I’ve already tried, and overcome, that strange affliction a few years ago).

Chicken banh-mi

Anticipation builds up as we desperately search for a table to stealthily eat at without being kicked out by the Starbucks baristas. Discreetly remove the banh-mi from our brown paper bags. Less discreetly rip away the greasy paper wrapping. Impatiently trying to get our hands around the entire sandwich so that the first bite is an all-encompassing one. Gigantic crunch. Taste. Chew. Frown. Ponder. Chew again. Swallow.

The not-so-spectacular chicken stuffing in my banh-mi

Not good enough. My banh mí’s just not good enough. Maybe even bland. Sure the baguette was wonderfully fresh and crunchy, providing the perfect bread-to-stuffing ratio, but the stuffing ís just not that interesting. When I eat a banh-mi, I’m hoping for some curry action, combined with tons of pickled daikon and carrots, maybe some yummy spreadable base like a spicy sauce or mayo – not just a regular chicken sub. Sadly, this tasted like just another regular chicken sub. And for those who’d retort that I deserved this cruel fate by ordering a bastardized chicken version of what should really be a pork sandwich, well, I’ve eaten far more inspiring chicken sandwiches at Banh mi Saigon (where a superior sandwich is 75 cents cheaper) and Baoguette (similar $5 price tag). So I know it can be done right.

Strangely, my friend’s veggie banh-mi was much more interesting and flavourful. Still, the thought of going to a banh mi truck to order a veggie sandwich rather than a meaty one just doesn’t feel right. Banh mi as street food, very appealing idea. But banh mi at the street truck on Water and John, just doesn’t make my cut.

Vietnamese Sandwich Cart
Water & John Street, New York NY

Author: InaFryingPan

With a family legacy of ingenious cooks, a nutritionist and chef-extraordinaire mother, and a father who introduced me to steak and caviar when I could barely reach the table, I had no choice but to acquire a keen awareness of food during my childhood years in Dubai. But it was only after I found myself on a college campus in Philadelphia – far away from home, too cheap as a student to spend on anything other than pizza, and with dorm rooms that had little rat-holes of kitchens if they even had them at all – when I developed a heightened appreciation of food. An appreciation of food that I once ate every night at the dinner table in Dubai, but that was now an entire ocean away. I lusted for the culinary treasures that lay outside the stale walls of my college dining hall, hijacked friends’ kitchens to try my hand at something, anything , remotely edible, and greedily raided different websites in search of highly-rated restaurants. With my move to New York to work for a consulting firm that secretly harbored self-professed foodies, my appreciation transformed into a passion, an addicition. I felt like everyone around me in New York was talking about food: where to get the best cupcakes, pizza slices, banh mi, kati rolls, pho, fried chicken, and every other food item out there that is just a plain old dish in some part of the world, but that’s become hyped to unforeseen proportions in New York. What fuelled my addiction over time was travel to different cities, both for work and play, which gave me unfettered access to the culinary havens of not only New York, but also of DC, Virginia, Chicago, Houston, Vegas, Austin, Seattle and even a little city called Bentonville (Arkansas!). After 9 years away from home, I’ve finally taken the leap to come back to Dubai – with not just an awareness, but genuine appreciation and passionate addiction for what I’d taken for granted as a child. Mom, I’m back to reclaim my seat at your dinner table, and to rediscover this city with its ever-expanding menu of international flavors.

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