Lemongrass Pork Banh Mi (Capital City BBQ, Lansing, MI)
Long ciabatta roll topped with lemongrass grilled pork, carrots, lime and vinegar pickled daikon radish, cilantro, a large cucumber slice, and a mayo-based dressing.
This was a top-3 all-time sandwich for me. The bread was perfectly fresh, crusty and relatively hard on the outside yet perfectly textured and spongy on the inside. The pork was, in its typical fashion, salty and taught- yet the relatively high fat content served to ad both a crisp, salty crust and a melt-in-your-mouth dimension that is too frequently a casualty of pork dishes. The lemongrass-seasoned pork paired perfectly with the summery flavors of the cilantro (stalks included, for extra crunch), carrot, and mild tangy radish. Then, instead of using thin slices of cucumber (others julienne, but this almost worsens the problem) as one typically would be inclined, this sandwich used a spear, about 1/3 of the circumference, to span the entire length of the roll. This allowed a crisp, meaty section of cucumber to be present in every bite while providing infinitely more flavor than any other preparation could’ve imagined. The freshness, and amount, of the cucumber were undoubtedly two of the most important factors in the phenomenal execution of this sandwich. And then comes the sauce. The first bite was great, the second even better, but the third — finally hitting that mayo-covered pork — was where the magic happened. The tangy heat of the house-made mayo was the glue that held the entire dish together. Without it, it’d be a good sandwich. It’s inclusion, though, was the final piece of the perfectly harmonious puzzle. What a sandwich, and what a way to start.
A note: Banh Mi sandwiches have as much variety as any national dish. Everybody’s got a different take on it. However, they are almost always constructed with a sesame oil and fish sauce based dressing (effectively a Vietnamese vinaigrette), rather than one of mayo. While this sounds fantastic also, it is my opinion that the mayo was the glue that held this dish together, and should not be eschewed in favor of stubborn tradition. After all, what is more true to a nation’s cuisine than constant innovation and adoption? This. Works.