Banh Mi Brings Flavors of Saigon to Springfield
Are plain old sub sandwiches making you sad? Hoagies leaving you feeling ho-hum? Shake up your sandwich routine with a Vietnamese-style banh mi at Saigon Sandwiches.
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Saigon Sandwiches brings some variety to Springfield’s sandwich scene with flavorful banh mi. The restaurant also serves many other tasty Vietnamese dishes.
As a self-appointed sandwich connoisseur, I am always on the hunt for new ways to consume a meal between two hunks of bread. So when I heard Saigon Sandwiches had opened on North Glenstone Avenue, I grabbed my friend Lillian Stone and hightailed it to the shop’s pleasantly painted bright green and orange interior for a midday meal.
Lunchtime is the perfect time for a sandwich—a complete feast in one handheld dish—and the banh mi elevates the humdrum brown bag staple to a delightfully vibrant level. A banh mi is a Vietnamese sandwich reflecting the cultural amalgamation that occurred during France’s colonization of Vietnam in the 1800s. The sandwich is served on a chewy baguette with mayonnaise and liver pate—decidedly French ingredients—and stuffed full of southeastern Asian flavors with pickled carrots and daikon radishes, cucumbers, cilantro and chili peppers.
Customize your banh mi sandwich by first selecting your meat of choice from a list of nearly 10 options and then asking for the toppings you like.
Even if you don’t fancy the flavors of the Far East, you’ll surely find something to like in Saigon Sandwiches’ banh mi. The lunch menu includes tame options like grilled pork or chicken kebabs or flavor-packed offerings like Vietnamese beef jerky with fried egg or Chinese barbecue pork. After browsing the menu in front of the sandwich counter, Lillian chose smoked beef brisket for her banh mi, and I went with the barbecue pulled pork.
Our server pulled double duty as the cook, and he guided us banh mi newbies through the sandwich-assembly process. He started with the bread, which had big, beautiful air holes and the golden, glossy finish of a perfect egg wash. Like everything here, the baguettes were handmade, but the restaurant has switched to handmade hoagies, which I’m sure are equally delicious. He slathered the bread with homemade mayo, liver pate and soy sauce and bean paste. After adding our respective proteins, he topped them with pickled veggies, cucumbers, cilantro and jalapeños—Lillian, a self-proclaimed heat weenie, skipped the peppers.
After letting our mouths water as we watched our lunches being assembled, we dug in. On Lillian’s brisket sandwich, the tenderness of the beef could have been texturally problematic between that wonderfully chewy baguette had it not been for the crisp vegetables and vinegar-y freshness of the toppings. Although I liked Lillian’s choice, I loved my sandwich more. The pulled pork had a slight sweetness, but the Chinese barbecue sauce and peppers built a slow-burning spiciness that gradually intensified bite after bite. Both sandwiches had well-built flavors that bypassed the earthiness that sometimes muddies the freshness of similar dishes using bean pastes or sauces.
Saigon Sandwiches’ steamed dumplings are filled with yummy pork and sesame seeds and served with a homemade fish sauce.
Although the banh mi sandwiches are clearly the stars of the show, the side dishes should not be overlooked. The steamed dumplings on the cafe’s specials menu came with no description, no explanation and no listed ingredients, but for mystery meat, they were delicious. They were filled with what we later discovered was pork and sesame seeds and served alongside homemade fish sauce. Saigon Sandwiches also makes fresh juices and smoothies, so I tried the Healthy Saigon Green Drink with green apple, cucumber, celery and bell pepper. Our server asked if I wanted an orange in it, and not one to skip out on my daily vitamin C allotment, I agreed. In retrospect, that probably wasn’t the best idea because my green drink was closer to Fanta in color and flavor than it would have been without it. And if sandwiches aren’t your thing (what’s wrong with you?), the cafe also serves steamed or baked buns for breakfast all day and has an extensive rice dish–based lunch and dinner menu worth exploring.
Now that summer is in full swing, I’ll be craving exotic flavors and a fresh crunch that my usual cold sub sandwiches can’t provide. Thankfully, Saigon Sandwiches is here to save the day with the perfect banh mi for me.