Lovers of Bánh mì, the Vietnamese sandwich, were crestfallen when Pacific Foods (1561 Black Rock Turnpike, Fairfield (203) 220-9450) closed just a few months after opening. I’m thrilled to report it’s back, under the same management. Good news is that this hole-in-the-wall storefront now has three tables for eating in.
As CT Bites previously reported, the menu offers summer rolls, pho and bubble tea, and there’s a small grocery section. But here’s what you have to order: the bánh mì. It could be described as a Vietnamese sub. Like a sub, the classic version combines cold cuts and crisp vegetables. But this light, well-proportioned sandwich is not an over-stuffed meat- feast, and each component reveals the way that the French colonization of Vietnam melded the flavors and cooking techniques of the two cultures.
The Vietnamese took the French art of charcuterie (cured meats) and made them their own. Most Vietnam charcuterie starts with a base of giò, a pork-based meat paste seasoned with sugar and fish sauce (made from fermented anchovies). This lends a bit of sweetness and barely discernable funk to the sausages and pâtés, which are traditionally wrapped in banana leaves before being assembled or cooked.
First, a baguette is spread with pâté flavored with Chinese five spice powder -- star anise, fennel cinnamon, clove and Sichuan pepper -- in lieu of the French quatre épices, four spices – pepper, clove, nutmeg and all spice). Hints of licorice and cinnamon, and sweetness distinguish Vietnamese pâté.
Traditionally in Vietnam, the baguette was made of rice flour and wheat flour. This created a thin- crusted, light-textured bread. The bánh mì I’ve eaten locally are made with white wheat flour only, yet have a light airy texture.
Thin slices of giò lua, which is kind of like Vietnamese mortadella, a pale-colored sausage made from a smooth paste of pork, are next layered on the baguette. The meat at Pacific Food comes from Kien Co. Inc. in Hartford. A slice of fatty pork roll, rimmed in red from having been smoked, is the final meat component.
Vegetables and herbs -- pickled carrots and daikon (a mild Asian radish) -- are sprinkled on the meat, spears of fresh cucumber are laid and sprigs of cilantro add the final grace note. If you ask for hot peppers, thin slices of fresh jalapeño or bird peppers will be scattered across. Then the sandwich is placed in a toaster oven.
Bite into it and the bread crackles into the savory meats and the crisp vinegary vegetables cut the richness, and you find yourself eating an utterly satisfying sandwich.
Variations abound. Some spread mayonnaise on the bread. Sometimes giò thû, a headcheese that’s less gelatinous than Western-style, is used. Or bánh mì are made with meatballs, or grilled pork, chicken or egg. The variations are endless.
Saigon Foods 1561 Black Rock Turnpike, Fairfield 203-292-9758