Banh-Mi (Beware the Fish Sauce)



Banh-Mi is a Vietnamese sandwich. 


Around these parts, a Banh-Mi will usually set you back about $2. My friend Duy introduced me to his native country’s Banh-Mi several years ago. My relationship with the Banh-Mi started off very rocky when Duy forgot to mention that these sandwiches often feature raw jalapenos.  Once I cooled my burning mouth and stopped glaring at Duy, I learned to simply remove the hot peppers and enjoy the small amount of spice left by them on the bread. After my introduction, I thought I should spread the word about a $2 sandwich that tastes great and is roughly the size of my head.  


This included my husband Nate. We went down to the local dive where I buy great Banh-Mi and ordered up several kinds. He loved them too. However, shortly after we ate the sandwiches, he started having some symptoms of an allergic reaction. We knew he has a peanut allergy, but didn’t realize that for some reason these particular Banh-Mi sandwiches had a peanut sauce on them (not sure if it was by accident or not). The reaction was thankfully mild.  However, poor Nate was left with a burning love for the Banh-Mi and a fear of having a severe allergic reaction if he ate one. What to do?


A few months later, Nate decided to make them at home so we would know exactly what was in the sandwich. Now, let me take a moment and do a small disclaimer here. Banh-Mi has a sort of cult-like following. We, by no means, want to imply that Banh-Mi we make is totally authentic or steeped in tradition. It is simply a recipe that we love and we think it’s a close enough to be considered “kissing cousins” with the Banh-Mi. No experts here – we just enjoy delicious sandwiches.


The first time we made them, we had to make a trip to the local Asian Market for ingredients. If you can’t buy the pickled daikon/carrot mix, then you can certainly find recipes for making them a day or two ahead of time – just do a google search. 


It was the Fish Sauce that caused us the most trouble. We thought we would walk into the store and see a bottle of “Fish Sauce” and we would skip happily away to enjoy our tasty sandwich. What we found was about a hundred different bottles with the words “Fish Sauce” on them. We debated and finally chose a bottle. We hoped for the best and took it home. Upon further inspection, Nate declared that we had made a terrible mistake and this version of Fish Sauce looked like a thick chunky stew with pieces of small fish suspended within. In fact, we never even opened the bottle and it made our pantry a little smelly. Seriously gross. It reminded us both of bait that one might use while trying to catch a large catfish. Okay. Regroup. Back to Asian market, but this time we knew we were looking for an amber liquid with no chunks. 


Once we overcame the Fish Sauce issue, Nate made a great sandwich. Once assembled, these sandwiches will even keep a day or two in the refrigerator. 


The following recipe is our best effort to date.  Also note that some are made with peanuts and some are not. However, almost without fail, restaurants that serve them have several peanut dishes on the menu, so there’s a slight risk no matter what. I would even be proud to serve these to Duy who introduced me to my first Banh-Mi, but I might hide a few extra jalapenos on his and not tell him!




Banh-Mi Recipe




5-Spice Marinated Pork Tenderloin (adapted from a recipe from


2 pork tenderloins sliced ½ inch thick

¾ cup of soy sauce 

½ cup Sherry

¼ Chinese 5-spice powder

4 TSP honey

2 TSP garlic powder

4 TSP crushed red pepper

½ cup olive oil

Mix all ingredients together, add pork and marinate several hours or overnight. Thread pork onto skewers – use metal skewers or wood skewers soaked in water. 




Assembled sandwich (Bahn-Mi):


Two crusty French Baguettes

½ cup lime juice

2 TSP soy sauce

1 TSP Nuoc Mam (Vietnamese Fish Sauce – see note!)

½ TSP toasted sesame oil

2 TBS Canola oil

2 TSP minced garlic

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup water

1 jalapeno pepper thinly sliced

8 sprigs of cilantro

2 sprigs of Thai Basil

Pickled carrot and daikon Radish (You can make  your own by looking up a recipe online. Or, you can do what we did, which is purchase ours at the local Asian Market)


Stir together lime juice, soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, Canola oil, sugar and water. This makes the sauce for the sandwich. To assemble the sandwich sprinkle sauce on each half of the French loaf, place pork on the bottom half and sprinkle with more sauce. Top with jalapeno, carrot, radish, basil and cilantro. Put two halves together and serve.  It is also very common to add mayonnaise and/or Asian chili sauce to the sandwich.


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