Food

Andrea Nguyen’s Perfect Banh Mi

Like many people, I love bánh mì sandwiches and almost always order one when I eat at Vietnamese restaurants, including from the beloved Brooklyn spot right around the corner from Cup of Jo’s office, that I miss so much it hurts. But I could never quite replicate the sandwich at home. Until last week, when I made the one you’re looking at above for a perfect summer dinner…

In Vietnamese, the term bánh mì means “sandwich,” but it also means “bread,” and according to Andrea Nguyen, author of Vietnamese Food Any Day, they are inextricably linked. “When you bite into one, you’re eating Vietnamese history and culture,” she told me. “The French introduced bread, butter, mayonnaise and pate plus Maggi — which is part of the signature bánh mì flavor for me — and resourceful Viet cooks ran with it all to create something of their own.”

The run-with-it-philosophy is central to assembling a bánh mì, which checks every box on the Ideal Sandwich Checklist — sweet, hot, pickled, creamy, crunchy — if you follow the traditional framework. “That’s Vietnamese food and cooking,” she says. “Know the rules, then create something of your own.” In her book, Nguyen lays out that framework which goes something like this:

Bread (light and airy) + Fat (choose one: mayo, butter, or fork-smashed avocado) + Seasoning (choose one: Maggi, liquid aminos, or soy sauce) + Filling (choose one: tofu, fried eggs, grilled chicken or pork) + Vegetables  (choose all or some: pickles, chiles, cucumber strips, fresh cilantro, mint, or basil)

Even though the resulting flavor is riotously complex, let me be very clear that with this loose guide, the making of one is not at all. (I mean, it’s a sandwich, right?) Once I committed to my preferred combination — tofu, mayo, pickles, cucumbers and cilantro — I realized that there were only two components that required actual prepping, Nguyen’s Sriracha Tofu and her “Any Day” Viet pickles. (And FWIW, both can be prepared ahead of time.) When those two were ready to go, dinner became a strict assembly job.

Below are the exact instructions for that version, but this weekend we’re planning on one made with chicken, avocado, chiles, pickles and mint. Maybe next we’ll go with fried eggs, butter, Maggi, pickles and cilantro? It feels like you can hardly go wrong and according to Nguyen, it’s the easy customization that makes them so appealing. “It’s a super exciting, nimble sandwich,” she says. “And that’s my favorite food group.”

Step 1: Make “Any Day” Viet Pickles

12 ounces red radishes, unpeeled and sliced into 1/8-inch thick rounds
One 6-ounce carrot, halved and thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 teaspoons sugar, plus 1/2 cup
1 1/4 cups distilled white vinegar (preferably Heinz)
1 cup lukewarm water

In a mixing bowl, toss the vegetables with the salt and 2 teaspoons sugar, let sit 10 minutes to soften. Then rinse with water, Drain in a mesh strainer or colander and press or shake to expel water. Transfer to a jar.

In a medium bowl, stir together the remaining 1/2 cup sugar with the vinegar, 1 cup water until dissolved. Pour enough of the liquid into the jar to cover the vegetables, discard any excess, and let sit for 1 hour. Use immediately, or refrigerator for up to 1 month.

Step 2: Make Sriracha Tofu

10 to 12 ounces super-firm tofu
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon Bragg Liquid Aminos, Maggi Seasoning Sauce (in a pinch you can use soy sauce)
2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons sriracha
1 tablespoon canola or neutral oil

Cut the tofu into batons as shown. (You should have about 10 to 12 pieces.) In a large nonstick skillet, combine the water, liquid aminos (or Maggi) and sriracha and stir to mix. Add the tofu and turn several times, then arrange flat in the skillet for maximum exposure to the seasonings. Set the skillet over medium heat and when bubbling begins, after about 2 minutes, use chopsticks or a silicone spatula to flip the tofu. Continue cooking to allow the seasonings to concentrate and stick to the tofu. When little liquid remains in the pan, about 2 minutes, drizzle 1 1/2 teaspoons of the canola oil over the tofu. Shake the pan to dislodge the tofu and flip the pieces again.

Let the tofu gently sizzle for 3 to 4 minutes to dry out and brown. Midway through the cooking, when the underside is mottled orange or maybe browned, drizzle on the remaining canola oil and flip the tofu. The finished tofu will have an orange-brown color with some dark brown spots. Transfer the tofu to a rack and allow it to cool and dry before using.

Step 3: Make Your Tofu Bánh mì Sandwich

A few more rules from Nguyen before you put everything together: Don’t get fancy bread. Head to the supermarket, supermercado or a bodega — the best bread for banh mi has a thin crust, possesses a cottony interior, tastes faintly sweet and is often commonplace. After heating your bread or rolls, you’ll want to remove some of the interior with your fingers to reduce the doughiness. You don’t want the bread to fight with what’s inside. Lastly: Don’t overstuff your sandwich with protein. A balanced banh mi resembles a salad in a sandwich: The visual ratio is 1:1 or 1:2. This recipe makes 4 sandwiches

4 light airy rolls or hand-span sections of French baguettes (see note above)
4 tablespoons mayonnaise, mixed with 1 1/2 teaspoons sriracha
10 to 12 sriracha tofu batons (see recipe above)
1 cup Any Day Viet Pickles (see recipe above)
drizzle of Maggi seasoning sauce (or Bragg Liquid Aminos or soy sauce)
1 small cucumber (enough for 4 to 6 rounds per sandwich), the kind you don’t have to peel
generous handful fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped

If the bread is soft, rub the crust with wet hands to moisten and then crisp in a 350°F oven (or toaster oven) for about 7 minutes. Otherwise bake it at 325°F for 3 to 6 minutes. Let it cool, then slice open horizontally, leaving a “hinge” on one side. Hollow out some of the inside to make room for your fillings.

Spread mayo on each of the two sides of the bread, covering all the way to the edges. Stuff with tofu, pickles, a drizzle of Maggi seasoning sauce, cucumbers and cilantro.

The bánh mì recipe (including the pickles and tofu) are inspired by or excerpted with permission from Ten Speed Press, publishers of Vietnamese Food Any Day by Andrea Nguyen. For more Andrea, follow her on Instagram.

P.S. A three-ingredient tomato sandwich and Ruth Reichl’s steak sandwich.

(Photograph of Andrea Nguyen by Aubrie Pick. Others by Jenny Rosenstrach.)

  1. Susan says...

    SO happy to see Andrea featured here! And of course I made this version of her sriracha tofu bánh mì tonight and it was delicious. Already had her Viet pickles in the fridge. :o) I own FOUR of Andrea’s cookbooks–started with her dumpling book–and now I’ll have to snag this one as well.

  2. Jules says...

    Made this today, and it was delicious! Added pickled beets and avocado which were both crowd pleasers :)

    Thanks so much, Jenny (and Andrea!)

  3. K says...

    The photos here make this look so delicious and fresh. Can’t wait to try it!

  4. Jess. says...

    OH, MY GOODNESS, I love Andrea Nguyen!!!!! I learned about her from a cookbook review episode of Dinner Sisters Podcast, and ever since then (reading the cookbook, following her on Insta), all I want is for her to adopt me. Her recipe writing is so intuitive and accessible. And her insights into best ingredients. . . . She’s perfect. If you love yourself and you want to be happy, buy her book and make the Turmeric Coconut Rice. It’s so beautiful and delicious. XOX

  5. Fiona says...

    LOVE LOVE LOVE

  6. Carrie says...

    Andrea Nguyen is the best! Glad to see her wonderful recipes and cookbooks highlighted here.

  7. Danielle says...

    Can’t wait to try this! And I especially love the instructions regarding the bread as I’ve only had bahn mi in restaurants, featuring amazing baguettes and assumed it was a crucial component. Thanks Jenny!

  8. jeannie says...

    OOH, this is unlike sandwich I have made. I look forward to trying it – the Sriracha tofu especially!

  9. Elle says...

    HANCOS. We used to live down the block from the 7th ave location. Bahn Mi and bubble tea became my comfort food. I still dream about their perfect bahn mi…and keep hoping they open an outpost in Long Beach!

  10. Ashley says...

    Maybe I’m one of those annoying purists, but those veggies are way too thick cut! What a mess to eat. I like the og way, pâté with shredded pickled daikon and carrots baby!!

    The bread does look fantastic which is 🔑

    • Phuong says...

      Def thought this too as a Vietnamese American who grew up with banh mi. Pickled veggies should be julienned, but hey, it’s a sandwich and food/culture changes.

    • Sarah says...

      Definitely agree on the pickled daikon and carrots! And top it with a sriracha mayo yummmm. And some cilantro. Jalapeno slices if you’re bold. I like to make mine as tacos rather than sandwiches. I follow the recipe from The Kitchn for lemongrass tofu banh mi and it’s always a hit in my house. Recently I started making it as a bowl, over rice with some sliced avocado and sliced cukes on the side.

  11. Sophie says...

    Thank you for featuring a plant-based meal! Love seeing this and getting inspired to cook more veggies and meat-substitutes at home.

  12. nadine says...

    Yum, so delicious. There is a great spot next to my office but I hadn’t had one since I’ve been working from home. Thank you for the recipe! I’m going to try it soon!

  13. Lindsey says...

    Definitely putting this in the rotation. So weird, I saw Andrea’s photo and thought she looked really familiar. Then I realized my then boyfriend (now husband) and I took a Vietnamese cooking class from her probably 9ish years ago at Love Apple Farm in Santa Cruz, CA. I remember it being a super fun class, and it’s making me nostalgic for pre-covid life. So awesome to see she has a new book out! Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  14. jane says...

    Bánh mì oh how I love thee, one of the tastiest things ever. Somehow tastes like comfort food though I did not grow up with it.

  15. Jane I. says...

    This has me salivating. I do love a good Vietnamese sandwich and now I feel inspired to create a low-carb salad version of this for next week’s Meal Prep! Yum yum yum!

  16. DC says...

    Yes!! My husband and I do a Trader Joe’s hack version of bánh mì all the time: teriyaki tofu, a bottle of white Modena vinegar for soaking veggies, pre-shredded carrots, cucumbers and bell peppers and red onion (the only things you have to chop), the baguettes you finish baking in the oven yourself, plus mayo and sriracha. So excited to add radishes and use Andrea’s pickle recipe the next time we make it!

  17. Christine says...

    I like to add a little fish sauce to my protein seasoning. It’s adds that “funky” thing that I enjoy in a bahn mi. But never smell the fish sauce straight from the bottle!

    • Viet says...

      This is racist

  18. J Tran says...

    Yum yum yum! Thanks for sharing this VERY essential food group lol

    And, is any other Viet person bothered as I am about the lack of accent marks on Vietnamese words in this blog post? It would mean so much to me if the words were spelled correctly: Bánh mì! Banh mi, without its accent marks, doesn’t actually mean anything so it’s technically misspelled throughout this entire piece. Thanks for your consideration!

    Note: I’m totally aware that even some Vietnamese American authors publish Vietnamese writings in their works without accents, but I believe it’s due to the pressure to conform to English. Andrea Nguyen, however, totally uses accent marks in (from what I’ve seen) all her work <3

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      J Tran, thank you for your note and we hear you! We will add these right away.

    • Thùy says...

      Thank you for saying this J ❤️ and thanks Joanna for being responsive.

    • Viet says...

      For the commenters who spell it “bahn”- this is a micro aggression.

  19. PH says...

    Oh how I miss Hanco’s! On my first trip back after moving to Denver years ago I rolled my suitcase right in there, plopped down and ordered a sandwich.

  20. Alix says...

    Hanco’s on Montague in Brooklyn Heights is open!

  21. Dana says...

    Definitely got my stomach growling. Dreaming of my favorite banh mi from Nhu Lan Bakery in Chicago now! The best.

  22. Clare says...

    Yum! But add 4xs the cilantro :)

  23. This is BEAUTIFUL. I just got Andrea Nguyen’s cookbook and love it. I grew up eating banh mi sandwiches and still request them when I go home for the holidays. My family thinks I’m crazy, because they are so common and, according to them, easy to make. They tell me to just make it myself :) So maybe I will!

  24. Diana K says...

    I LOVE Hanco’s! I use to pop in there after my miserable internship for their perfect Banh Mi. And THEN I discovered that NPR’s This American Life did a segment on them and a local copycat restaurant:
    https://www.thisamericanlife.org/412/million-dollar-idea

  25. Well, I guess I am making those radish pickles today!
    Yum!

  26. Jill says...

    Yes please!
    Thank you!

  27. celeste says...

    We don’t have Vietnamese restaurants in our city, so this was quite interesting to read about. Thanks for bringing a little diversity to this column!

    • diana K. says...

      The Banh Mi is so easy to make at home that it’s the perfect intro to Vietnamese cooking. Try it out.

    • Clare says...

      Not sure how close you are to Chicago but if you ever get the chance to eat at Haisous, it’s a fantastic Vietnamese spot in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.

    • Jeanne says...

      Omg the pickled veggies are a game changer. I like cucumbers and carrots cut like matchsticks to make biting easier. But that’s just me. My fave meat is leftover grilled chicken and I sometimes throw a fried egg in there too.

  28. liz says...

    be still, my heart !

  29. Kristyn says...

    And now I am craving a tofu banh mi from Artisan Boulanger Patissier in South Philly…. Except I live in Boston. The balance of textures and flavors is sheer perfection and the stuff of lunch daydreams. Might have to give this a go tonight, thanks for sharing!!

    • Kristin says...

      Head over to Fields Corner in Dorchester – so many options!!