Friday, August 7, 2009

Vancouver Banh Mi Roundup

I’m a little embarrassed to still be writing about our trip to Vancouver in May, but after forcing some friends to eat 5 banh mi sandwiches one afternoon, I feel like I have a duty to blog about it. Just to clarify for any new readers, hubby and I currently live in New Jersey but our main dining town is New York City. We love to travel, so I've been blogging about Vancouver for the last couple months. We also just got back from Ireland so expect to see some Dublin stuff intermingled with my last few Vancouver posts in the upcoming weeks. And you might also see some New Jersey, Manhattan, and Long Island stuff thrown in occasionally. Yup - clear as mud.

Vancouver Banh Mi Roundup

This banh mi roundup took place on May 18th, 2009. Shout-out to fellow food blogger Justin from
Justcook nyc who recently conducted his own banh mi roundup (in NYC and in San Francisco). His fun blog post reminded me that I needed to get my act together and finally blog about my own Vancouver banh mi experience.

Banh mi (aka Vietnamese sandwich) is one of my must-have items whenever I'm in Vancouver. Prior to this trip, I'd only tried banh mi from one place in Vancouver, Ba Le. Their sandwiches have always been good and cheap, so I never felt the need to go anywhere else. So what changed? Well, since I started blogging a few months ago, I've been following Vancouver foodie discussions and noticed a few Vietnamese sandwich shops being touted as being better than Ba Le. And just like all of my food obsessions, I just HAD to see which one was best.

So what makes a good banh mi? First of all, the bread (French baguette) should be very fresh. The yummy fillings, consisting of Vietnamese cold cuts, pickled carrots/daikon, fresh cilantro, and a generous schmear of pâté and mayo, should be well balanced and work in harmony with each other.

I recruited hubby Kris and our good friends Joyce and Brian to help 'judge'.
We picked up banh mi from 5 different sandwich shops (4 in Vancouver and 1 in Richmond). Since there are several types of Vietnamese sandwiches offered, we chose to order "the Special" at each location (except for the Richmond location where Brian picked up a ‘Vietnamese sub with pork’). You usually have the option of spicy (with slices of hot green chili peppers) or not spicy, so we chose the spicy version at every location (the hot peppers are easy to remove if you don’t want them). And similar to my other roundups, our scoring method was highly subjective and totally unscientific - we just divided each sandwich into 4 pieces and marked them out of 10 based on overall yumminess.

All sandwich prices are stated in Canadian dollars and are quoted as of May 18th, 2009, although I highly doubt any of the prices have changed - Ba Le's prices have only gone up a dollar or so since I was in high school (a looooong time ago). And we were all impressed that every sandwich we tried that day was made with really fresh bread (the secret is to go early when the bread has been freshly baked).

Au Petit Cafe Special sandwich (or No. 1) $4.50
Au Petit Café’s banh mi have become so popular that they usually sellout by early afternoon. Best to call ahead and reserve a sandwich (don’t be like me, I didn’t call ahead and then had to wait for 25 minutes in a busy restaurant). This was the most expensive sandwich of the bunch so I had high expectations. I was a little concerned that their ‘special’ sandwich (or ‘No.1’ - homemade ham, house meatball, vegetables and hot peppers) didn’t contain one of my favorite banh mi ingredients, pâté. But the house meatballs were so moist and flavorful I didn’t even miss the pâté. High scores across the board, except for Hubby Kris who said he was “starting the scores low so he could leave room for the others” (what is this, a figure skating competition?)

Au Petit Café
4851 Main Street
Vancouver, BC V5V 3R9
Tel: 604-873-3328
(closed on Wednesdays)

Ba Le (Kingsway location)
Special sandwich $2.75
This was the type of banh mi I was was used to eating – traditional Vietnamese cold cuts, a good balance of pickled veggies vs meat, and the perfect amount of mayo and pâté. Overall, a solid sandwich (Ba Le has never let me down).

Ba Le
701 Kingsway #21
Vancouver, BC V5T 3K6
(604) 875-6322

Kingsway Deli
Vietnamese Sub Special (Banh Mi Dac Biet) $3.00
This sandwich was impressive to look at, piled high with meat, pickled veggies and cilantro. Joyce liked the pâté while Brian thought it was way too salty. Hubby and I thought the overall flavor was bland and boring (but I would still eat it if I didn’t have any other options).

Kingsway Deli
1188 Kingsway
Vancouver, BC V5V 3C8
(604) 873-6666

Tung Hing (Tiem Banh Dong Khanh)
House Special Sandwich $2.75
Was a bit confused by this place because when you walk in it looks like a traditional Chinese bakery. It’s also conveniently located next door to Kingsway Deli, so I made up some time from having to wait at Au Petit Café for so long. We were a bit thrown off by the giant slice of cucumber on top of the sandwich, but it was well seasoned and complimented the other ingredients nicely. We all really enjoyed this banh mi - it had a good balance of ingredients with a generous amount of tasty cold cuts and delicious pâté.

Tung Hing Bakery
1196 Kingsway
Vancouver, BC V5V 3C8
(604) 875-3394

An Nam Restaurant
Vietnamese Sub with Pork $3.50
Our friends suggested that we include this Vietnamese restaurant located in nearby Richmond. I’d never heard of it before but I thought it’d be fun to see what Richmond had to offer (Richmond’s known for having great Asian food afterall). The sandwich had too much black pepper, the quantity of pickled veggies overwhelmed the rest of the sandwich, and the pâté had an intense liver flavor (both Brian and I commented on the strange aftertaste). Kris' portion contained a tiny piece of fatty meat. Despite our negative reviews, it’s interesting to note that our friend Joyce loved the strong liver flavor of the pâté and also enjoyed the generous amount of pickled daikon and carrot (this was her favorite sandwich overall).

An Nam Restaurant
8280 Granville Ave
Richmond, BC V6Y 1P3
(604) 279-9097

And the winner of this banh mi battle is...Tung Hing! We celebrated by eating some banana fried buns from Tung Hing’s bakery:

Final Rankings:
1. Tung Hing (good balance of ingredients, yummy cold cuts and pâté)
2. Au Petit Café (delicious house made meat balls)
3. Ba Le, Kingsway location (good traditional banh mi)
4. Kingsway Deli (boring flavor but I would eat it if I had no other options)
5. An Nam (strong flavored pâté, too many pickled veggies)

A big thank you to our friends Joyce and Brian for participating in the banh mi roundup!

And check out this cool site devoted exclusively to banh mi, Battle of the Banh Mi, created by food bloggers White on Rice Couple. You’ll learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about banh mi, including how to make them yourself (vegetarian recipes too!). There’s also a great directory of locations where you can get banh mi throughout the US.

So where’s your favorite place to get banh mi? Leave me a comment below!



Justin said...

thanks for the shout-out. i love the tables with the scores. honestly, that place in san francisco i blogged about is at least a 9. and i'm not sure if you said you've been to num pang in nyc, which i've blogged about before, but you should really try it. they don't do banh mi, but they do amazing asian sandwiches. i have a feeling you'll love it. and it's way cheap.

Anonymous said...

How fun that you and your friends got to try five different restaurants and compare them one after another! I've actually never had Banh mi but it sounds like a sandwich that I would really love, will look out for a good place to try it.

Heavenly Housewife said...

Phyllis you r "truly outrageous" :)LOL. I love french baguettes. Love them to bitties. I've never tried a banh mi but they look pretty. I noticed a very long necked lovely in one of the pictures sampling some as well! I noticed it went right for the baguettes (perhaps i was there in spirit ;)!
Love it when you do these round up things, looks like so much fun!

Jenn said...

I love that your rating pic if Jem. It got me singing the theme song. LOL.

There's this new place Vietnamese place that just opened up new my neighborhood. i wonder if they'd have bahn mi on the menu. I must investigate.

KennyT said...

This is so fun to do Banh Mi store hopping and review on the food together with friends, hahaha.

I think I'll like the Au Petit one. There's one popular Vietnamese Banh Mi cafe in HK, I'll go and have a look.

Daily Spud said...

I had my first banh mi experience in San Francisco this year (at Saigon Sandwich) - I liked it so much that it was very quickly followed by my second experience! Now if only I could get some banh mi in Dublin...

Jackie at said...

Love, love bánh mì sandwich. Picture-wise, I think the Kingsway Deli would win the challenge.

Phyllis said...

Hi everyone, thanks so much for all your comments!

Justin: I just read your review on the pork sandwich from Num Pang on your blogpost - OMG does that ever look good!!! I can't wait to try it, thanks so much for the recommendation :)

5 Star Foodie: That afternoon was pretty hilarious - I just remember watching my friends and Kris taste their sandwiches - everyone had their 'serious' judging faces on, LOL! I hope you get to try banh mi!

Heavenly Housewife: My friend Joyce assigned cartoon/puppet alter-egos to everyone except for me (as the blog author, I got to choose my own fictional character and of course it had to be JEM!) Hubby Kris was not too pleased about being 'Count von Count' LOL! And the long necked carb-loving lovely in the photo is named Sophie :)

Jenn: Another Jem fan - woohoo! Have fun on your 'investigation'!

Kenny: Au Petit Cafe was my personal favorite because the meatball was really good/moist! It was a little more 'gourmet' than all the rest. And I bet the banh mi in HK are stellar (please report back on your findings!)

Daily Spud: Saigon Sandwich is definitely on my SF hit list! Love your post on the banh mi baked potato (I started drooling when you mentioned a possible banh mi chip butty!)

Jackie: Yes, that Kingsway Deli sandwich was seriously stacked - pity it didn't have more flavor!

OysterCulture said...

When you come to SF, I'll give you a banh mi run for your money, among other things.

Love the detailed observations, people the world over will be printing out this post so they do not waste their time. You should rename your blog You HUNGRY foodie service - we sample so you don't have to.

Phyllis said...

OysterCulture: Can you believe I've never been to SF? I really can't call myself a serious foodie until I've been there! Good thing I've already stretched out my stomach with these practice sessions so I'll be ready for the OysterCulture guided eating marathon when I finally make it over ;)

shokutsu said...

Lovely reading about your thorough banh mi adventure in Vancouver! Its a favorite of one of our contributors as well.

Teanna said...

WOAH! Phyllis, you are totally my childhood idol! Haha Love the photos! And now that I am back home, one of the first things on my list is to get some Banh Mi. I have never had it and I've been wanting to try it for so long!

Phyllis said...

shokutsu: Hello! Thanks for your comment and the links. I've actually read both of those awesome reviews before (you may have noticed that I left a comment on the Ba Le one way back in February!) Great to see that Foodosophy is back!

Teanna: I LOVE Jem (I even own a couple of the animated episodes!) And welcome home Teanna! Can't wait for you to try banh mi. It's so popular in NYC these days, let me know if you find a good place :)

Andrea Busse said...

We did our own banh mi showdown in 2006, and came up with the same winner! Not sure where you got your list from, but we sampled sandwiches from the same places too (minus the Richmond one)!

Next time you are in Vancouver, we'll mess you up with a ramen showdown. Or, maybe a pho showdown... oh, the possibilities. I love this city.

Phyllis said...

Andrea Busse: Hello! Thanks for your comment. I grew up in Vancouver so I've been eating banh mi from Ba Le since highschool. Friends had told me about Au Petit, but the 2 times I tried to get a sandwich, they had run out of bread by early afternoon. Before my last visit to Vancouver I scoured the Western Canada board of and also read egullet for popular banh mi locations, the same names kept coming up so those became the roundup contenders. And I would love to do a Vancouver ramen or pho round-up one day :)

danpomerantz said...

Great blog post. Based on your suggestions, we visited the 3 on Kingsway. I have to say, we completely agree with your orderings. Best is the bakery, middle is BaLe, worst is the one next to the bakery (although none are bad)!

Thanks for the very informative post.

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