Except for the little houses with little gardens, and with cars replacing motorcycles, San Jose resembles Binh Thanh District in Saigon. I don’t know the demography of the city, or even of the state of California, but I saw Vietnamese everywhere when I was there. Palo Alto doesn’t breathe exclusively Vietnamese, but it has Asian everywhere. Gas stations, restaurants, office employees at Stanford, ladies walking by your dorm in the morning, the mall… But Palo Alto doesn’t have banh mi. San Jose does. And it has good banh mi. Mudpie found Thanh Huong’s Sandwich from Google (the sign on the building says Huong). Two out of three times we went to San Jose when I was in Palo Alto, we went to Thanh Huong’s. The other time we went to another banh mi place which didn’t have it as nicely as Thanh Huong’s does.
Here’s my hypothesis of how banh mi came about: the French colonized Vietnam and brought with them some baguette for breakfast, the Vietnamese looked at the French baguette, thought “what’s the point for being so long?”, made it shorter and lighter, kept the pâté and to heaven the cheese, cut it vertically, stuffed in some homemade grilled pork and pickled vegetable, added some soy sauce. Voilà. A banh mi – a banh (made of) wheat. Actually I don’t know what people originally ate banh mi with, I just know that it’s an all-day food. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, after school snack, late night snack. The stuffing can be hot meat, cold meat, eggs, banana, sardines, tofu, pate. We always choose grilled pork when we get our banh mi.
It’s not the best quality pork, but the flavor is top notch. The right mixture of salt, sugar, garlic, onion, a little bit of time to sit and soak, and some hot grill. We always had too much food to eat banh mi right after we bought them, so we had it for lunch the day after. The fridge did a fine job preserving the taste. The oven helped bringing back the bread’s crunchiness, which meshed well with flavorful pork, pickled carrots and daikon, a thin spread of liver pâté (not the infamously bitter foie gras), a couple shooks of soy sauce, one or two sprigs of cilantro. I take out the cilantros, Mudpie likes them.
For $2.75, would you rather a couple of double cheese burgers from McDonald’s, a 6-inch sub from Subway (I think the price was raised not long ago and no longer less than $3?), or a banh mi thit nuong? I’d go with banh mi thit nuong every time.
Address: Hương Sandwiches (near San Jose State University)
404 S 2nd Street Ste A
San Jose, CA 95113