You know how school kids don’t get tired of peanut butter sandwich even if they eat it every day for lunch? Well, every time I catch the BART down to Fremont, it’s hard to pass up the chance to stop by Huong Lan Sandwich in Milpitas for a fresh crusty loaf, or many of those banh mi’s – a week’s supply for lunch.
When in California, be liberal. The store has diversity. Above is packages of bánh bèo (white) and most likely bánh bột lọc (leaf-wrapped). Many kinds of cookies, crackers, shrimp chips, and other snacks unknown to ubercmuc. Below is the real goodies: nice warm bánh bao (steamed pork bun), bánh cốm (the bright green flat thing), bánh giò (leaf-wrapped pyramid), and mini bánh chưng (the squares).
Here’s the square unwrapped and cut in four. The pork is fatty, which is not quite right, but nonetheless it’s well done. So the story goes as follows: in a competition among the princes in ancient Vietnam, the king asked all the princes to find an exceptionally good food. The youngest prince, having no money and little power, couldn’t afford fancy stuff like ginseng and who knows what in the woods, so with the advice of a god in his dream, he took sticky rice, meat, and mung bean to make a bánh, wrapped in lá dong (Phrynium placentarium), and boiled for hours. The bánh is a green square, symbolizing the square Earth, pork – the animal, and mung bean – the plants. So I suppose fatty or lean pork doesn’t really matter to the story. After all, we have some really chubby animal, not just skinny ones. Mung bean seems to be Vietnamese’s favorite legume, just like red bean is to the Japanese. Perhaps because it’s good as a paste (in both sweet and savory bánh), a powder (on xôi), whole beans (in sweet deserts like chè), and as an ice cream flavor.
Don’t let size tricks you. Half of this mini bánh chưng definitely made a filling breakfast, the whole thing would be too filling. And if you’re too full you wouldn’t be able to eat a nice crusty bánh mì for lunch… uhm hmm…
Look at all that pickled carrots and radish. It’s a balanced meal. I usually get bánh mì thịt nướng (grilled pork), but that is proven quality, so this time gà nướng (grilled chicken) is up for test. I should stress that no matter what the filling is, a banh mi can never go wrong. You can put just soy sauce and a banana in it, and it would still be yummy. Something about the crusty, flaky bread that makes everything better. Back to the chicken. Well, it’s not dark meat, and it’d take some serious brining to make white meat flavorful. So let’s put it gently, I’ll be loyal to grilled pork.
Hương Lan must be a chain, or it’s just a name sandwich-makers like. They’re everywhere in this area, but I believe every store has a different touch to it. Here they put peanuts and nước mắm in the grilled pork bánh mì. The more flavors the merrier. Address: 41 Serra Way #108, Milpitas.
Oh, the end of the story is, the youngest prince, proved to be the wisest, was chosen for the crown. 🙂