Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Nguyen Sinh, Hanoi, Vietnam (Alissa and Don Eat Asia Day 23, Part 4)

I rarely rate a sandwich or a burger very highly, but if ever there was a sandwich that could lay claim to being the king of sandwiches it would have to be Banh Mi (or as they spell it in Hanoi, Banh My). Banh Mi can technically be any kind of sandwich or bread, but the classic that has become well known in the west is a combination of a French baguette, assorted Vietnamese cold cuts, pate, vegetables and herbs. A product of the French Indochina colonial era and spread throughout the world during the Vietnam War diaspora, Banh Mi has outlived its origins in troubled times to become the kind of sandwich that can command long queues at the best Vietnamese bakeries in places throughout the world (including a well known example in Melbourne).

Coming to Hanoi, there was no way we wouldn't be eating one of these magnificent sandwiches and we didn't wait long at all to get one. After checking in and mistaking a less than stellar restaurant for the famous Chim Quay place in the Old Quarter, we found ourselves at Nguyen Sinh; a specialist in charcuterie well known for their foie gras pate Banh Mi. Alissa and I walked in a bit confused by their lack of English signage, but knowing what we wanted we were able to communicate that we were here for the Banh Mi. 

The staff lovingly assembled our rolls with an assortment of their cold cuts and the aforementioned pate, along with some pickled vegetables. We had decided to go across the road to Pho 10 before eating these, so we took the rolls away.

Back in the hotel we unwrapped our baguettes and were blown away. While lacking the combination of fresh herbs I usually associate with a good Banh Mi, the foie gras pate more than made up for it with its mouthwatering unctiousness and the sheer quality of the cold cuts - the Vietnamese must truly be the masters of charcuterie in Asia. Combined with the sweet and sour pickled vegetables and the expertly baked baguette that had both a crispy crust and a soft inside, this is exactly the kind of food that can convince a sandwich sceptic such as myself that putting some fillings inside bread can be as good and as satisfying a meal as my favourite bowls of noodles or a fine dining experience. Being someone who loves her bread as well as being an avid fan of foie gras, Alissa was in heaven. 

The Verdict: Excellent
It may not be the classic Banh Mi we known in the west (and I hear Hoi An do Banh Mi even better) - but seriously, this is foie gras pate and great cold cuts in an awesome baguette for a bargain price. You've gotta do it. 

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