Hey there Skinnyphilies! Here’s the first in my series of sandwich-focused posts. May you find loads of meaty information wedged between the bready delights of my excellent writing…
The topic of colonialism and its legacy can definitely be a tricky one. There’s no doubt that the colonial era saw the domination and mistreatment of many subjugated peoples across the world, yet it would be more than a tad hypocritical of me as a comfortably middle class Caucasian Australian to try and argue that it had no positive outcomes whatsoever. Personally I think the best way to deal with it is to acknowledge the negatives, and there were certainly many, while at the same time choosing to focus on the good things that arose from the mixing of cultures that was a signature of the colonial period. Things like beating the English in the Ashes, competing in the Commonwealth Games (and killing it unlike in the Olympics) and enjoying a good Bahn Mi all fall into this category.
One of Vietnam’s signature street food highlights, the Bahn Mi is quite literally colonialism in sandwich form, but in the best way possible. Before emerging as an independent nation after WWII, Vietnam was the French colony of Indochina. The French (being the French) weren’t going to go on ruling a foreign country and oppressing its people without a baguette to munch on while they were doing it, so they exported their baking expertise along with their imperial aspirations. The locals then took this crusty-on-the-outside-and-fluffy-on-the-inside baked goodness, borrowed a few fillings from their colonial masters (pate and mayonnaise), threw in a few of their own (chilli, coriander, pickled carrots, fish sauce) and boom, the utter deliciousness that is Bahn Mi was born.
It’s well known that mixed-race people are pretty much the most attractive folk around. For some reason the blending of gene pools brings out and combines the best attributes of both parent’s heritage; take actress Olivia Munn for example. Well the same principle applies here. Born of a husky European father and foxy Asian mother, the Bahn Mi is the Olivia Munn of the sandwich world; greater the than the sum of its parts and definitely a glorious sight to behold.
Now that you’re all up to speed on the awesomeness of Bahn Mi you’ll understand why I was excited to learn a while back that City Provisions on Hay St in the city sold them for a mere $6 each during lunchtime on weekdays. Once I’d relayed this information to a fellow Vietnamese-sandwich-loving friend who works nearby it wasn’t long till we conspired to meet there for lunch one Friday and put them to the test. The name Bahn Mi acutally just refers to the style of sandwich and can be filled with everything from Vietnamese sausage to pork belly, grilled pork, pork floss, grilled chicken, meatballs and even canned sardines. City Provisions has a small but interesting selection on offer (with regularly changing specials). My partner in crime opted for the crispy pork belly while I couldn’t decide between the mixed meat and the meatballs and so go both at the genius suggestion of the clever lass behind the counter (for the princely sum of $1 extra).
Made fresh to order in front of your eyes in a matter of seconds, they at least seemed to be the business at face value. Settling on the tables out the front in the pleasant autumn sunshine and getting down to business we soon found out that their beauty was way, way more than skin deep. Along with our chosen meat filling were lashings of rich liver pate, creamy mayonnaise, tangy, crunchy pickled carrot and lots of lovely chopped chilli, fresh cucumber and coriander.
Not having had one in a while, it wasn’t till about half way through that I remembered exactly what it is that makes Bahn Mi such and excellently constructed sandwich. Each of the many ingredients contrasts against and accentuates the next: the richness of the fatty meat, pate and mayonnaise is cut through by the acidic tang of the carrots and the spice of the chilli while the softness of the meat and pate is set beautifully against the crunch of the bread crust, cucumber and pickled carrots. It really is one of the most well balanced sandwiches you’re ever likely to come across; the perfect blend of textures and flavours, fresh and premade ingredients.
As such the humble Bahn Mi punches well above its weight and price range in terms of flavour and satisfaction, and the stuff that City Provisions serves up on a daily basis is well worth a look if you’re in search of a tasty, cost effective sandwich-based treat for lunch on a work day. By all means please spare a though for those who suffered under the yoke of colonialism while you tuck in to one of these bad boys, but by the time you’ve finished it you might just be convinced that its outcomes are perhaps a little less black and white than you may have originally thought.