Banh Mi

How do you know it’s Spring in Pittsburgh? When Lucy, the best Banh Mi vendor in the world (aka “The Saigon Sandwich Lady”) sets up her outdoor stand and starts vending her wares.

photo:Krista Schinagl, Post-Gazette

A good Banh Mi (literally “French Sandwich,” colloquially “Saigon Sandwich”) is a transcendent experience. Along with Pho, their beef noodle soup, it is empirical evidence for classifying the Vietnamese palate as the best in the world. Banh Mi is about fresh ingredients, contrasting textures, and intriguing tastes combining to provide perfection in handheld form. Start with the best baguettes you can find. Into them put some form of meat (ideally thinly sliced roast pork, but you can get them with chicken or other meats; once I actually had one made with braunschweiger). Not too much – the meat is just an accent. Add shredded and pickled carrots, cucumbers, hot jalapeno peppers, and finish with a healthy garnish of fresh cilantro.

You can find Lucy right outside My Ngoc on Penn Avenue most days of the week in good weather. If she doesn’t know you, she’ll tend to put in a bit too much meat, because that’s the fashion in sandwiches around here. Try a Banh Mi once, and I guarantee you’ll keep going back again and again.

Welcome to Spring, finally.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently did an article on street food in Pittsbugrh, profiling Lucy specifically. I’m glad of that, but they failed to point out that although there are a few stars here, street vendor culture in general is lousy because the City makes it very difficult to cheaply acquire licenses. Compared to some place like Toronto, street food culture in Pittsburgh is practically nonexistent. I hope that changes.