One Banh Mi, Extra Gravy Please

My “sloppy roast duck” poor boy was dressed with mayo, pickled vegetables, herbs and spicy pork pâté.

This was a long way from the standard roast beef dressed with gravy poor boy, but cultural influences often take international leaps.

Technically the sandwich before me was known as a banh mi, the Vietnamese version of what we think of as a poor boy. Restaurateurs encourage the association, including on the menu at MoPho where there is no attempt to describe the sandwich as anything other than a “po-boy.”

Many places have their own version of a sandwich made on elongated bread. Vietnamese in Philadelphia might sell a “Vietnamese Hoagie,” in New York perhaps a “Vietnamese submarine.” What distinguishes our classic poor boy though, is the local version of French bread; mostly perfected by German bakers, with an outside crispiness found nowhere else. Here though is where the banh mi provides stiff competition. There are those, and I know this dances with heresy – and I am not saying it’s an overwhelming trend – who say that the baguette used for the banh mi is actually better than our native French bread.

French baking techniques are used in the Vietnamese version, which has the added advantage of rice flower mixed with wheat that provides an extra lightness. In a town dominated by Leidenheimer, Dong Phuong, a Vietnamese bakery on Chef Menteur Highway has become the leading purveyor of the banh mi bread.

All food is fusion, including the recipes featured in our cover story, and the imagination wonders where current fusion will take us. Traditional New Orleans bread pudding, for example, was made with leftover French bread. Could banh mi bread pudding be in our future? Or maybe the bread is so good, there will not be any left over at all.
 

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