Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: Texas V - Good sandwich, Vietnam!

Most Americans don't realize that Houston and the Texas coast are home to one of the largest Vietnamese-American communities in the United States.  Escaping Vietnam during the mid 1970's many Vietnamese sought refuge in the US, bringing their recipes for dishes such as phở and bánh mì with them.

Official Name: State of Texas
State Nickname: The Lone Star State, The Republic of Texas
Admission to the US: December 29, 1845 (#28)
Capital: Austin (4th largest)
Other Important Cities: Houston (largest), San Antonio (2nd largest), Dallas (3rd largest), El Paso (6th largest),
Region: South, Southwest; West South Central (US Census)
RAFT NationsCornbread & BBQChile PepperGumboBison
Bordered by: Oklahoma (north), Arkansas (northeast), Louisiana (east), Gulf of Mexico (southeast), Tamaulipas, Nuevo León & Coahuila (Mexico) and the Río Grande (south), Chihuahua (Mexico) (southwest), New Mexico (west)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: cast iron dutch oven (cooking implement - not edible, of course, but used for cooking), chili (dish), chiltepín (native pepper), Guadalupe bass (fish), jalapeño (pepper), longhorn (large mammal), pan de campo (bread), pecan (tree and health nut), prickly pear cactus (plant - for the pads and the fruit), sopaipilla and strudel (pastries), sweet onion (vegetable), Texas purple sage (native shrub), Texas red grapefruit (fruit). tortilla chips and salsa (snack)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: Where to begin?  Texas-style barbecue (specifically beef and beef brisket), Texas chili, chicken fried steak, Mexican (specifically Northern Mexican) foods, Tex-Mex foods (including migas, chile con carne and sopaipilla)

Texas, as other parts of the US, was reluctant to welcome the first wave of Vietnamese refugees, but once the "boat people" arrived in the second wave of Vietnamese immigration in the late 1970's, this more culturally and ethnically diverse group was more readily welcomed into Texas, whose coast was a logical place to settle since some parts were similar in terms of weather and climate [von der Mehden date unknown].  It wasn't just the climate that attracted them, as Fred von der Mehden points out [date unknown]:
The major reasons for moving to Texas were economic opportunities, the nearness of resettlement camps, the climate and geographic similarity of places like Rockport to Vietnam, and, eventually the growth of Vietnamese communities, including support groups, media, and stores catering to their needs. Vietnamese generally moved to urban centers such as Houston, Dallas, and Austin and to seacoast areas. In 1981 Texas had the second largest number of Vietnamese of any state, 40,000, and Houston had more than any American city outside of California. In 1985 the total Texas Vietnamese population was estimated at 52,500, but the actual number was probably larger. [von der Mehden date unknown]
One of the most famous Vietnamese dishes is the ubiquitous phở, that scalding hot soup in which noodles and super-thin pieces of beef cook on the way to your table, accompanied with bean sprouts and slices of jalapeño and cilantro.  Another popular dish, the popular bánh mì sandwich, has its origins in the French occupiers of Vietnam: a soft baguette cut in half and filled with meats, cilantro, chiles and often some sort of Vietnamese pickled vegetables.

The bánh mì sandwich is quite popular in Texas' major cities.  Ruthie Johnson Miller [2011] of the Culture Map Houston website lists some of the most popular bánh mì joints in Houston, for example, correcting an oversight of the New York Times' recent list of America's best bánh mì sandwiches that overlooked Houston altogether. 

I originally wanted to make a phở for this final Texas post, but with all the beef I've eaten lately (from brisket to chili), I thought I'd have a change.  Fortunately, Andrea Nguyen [2009] leaves plenty of room in this post, one among many she's done about bánh  on her Viet World Kitchen website:
There is essentially one sandwich in Vietnamese cooking and it is quite a tour de force. It started out very simply, with baguette smeared with liver pate and that was it. That's how my mom knew it in the 1940s when she was growing up in Northern Vietnam. What we know today as banh mi is a light, crispy small baguette that is split and hollowed before it is invariably filled with homemade mayonnaise or butter (which I don't like), sliced chili pepper, cilantro leaves, cucumber, a tangy-sweet daikon and carrot pickle (do chua), and a drizzle of soy sauce. The variation comes in when you choose what protein component(s) will be center stage. [Nguyen 2009]
That meat could be anything from liver pâté to crispy pork skin to tofu, but Nguyen's recipe calls for any strongly flavored pork.  I went with a very simple thickly cut roast pork for my sandwich, and not only used her bánh mì recipe, but her recipe for do chua pickled carrot and daikon as well.

The Recipe: Bánh Mì

For Nguyen's standard bánh  you will need:

* French baguette (about $2 for one at Wegman's)
* "boldly flavored" luncheon meat (since I was all beefed out from the brisket and the chili, I went with fancy charcuterie roast pork from Wegman's at about $10 a pound - daaaaang - so I only got half a pound)
* cilantro (a bunch for $2.50)
* jalapeño (one was just a few cents)
* cucumber (about 50 cents for one at H-Mart)
* mayonnaise (after the derecho took out my power and most of the contents of my fridge in June, I was in need of a new jar of mayonnaise.  I went again with Duke's brand, only this time getting the low fat version for about $4.50)
* soy sauce (not pictured: I forgot to put this in the photo but I do add it in the recipe below)
do chua, a quick Vietnamese pickle consisting of...

* carrot (I only needed one, from H-Mart for about 50 cents)
* daikon radish (about 75 cents for this smallish one from H Mart)
* distilled white vinegar (had on hand)
* sugar (same)
* water (this is not difficult for me to find)
* salt (again, I have this)

I used the small square setting on my French fry cutter to easily cut the daikon into thin strips.

I did the same with the carrot.  Note that these cuts are still wider than do chua typically is.

Cover the carrot and daikon pieces with the salt (about a tablespoon for a full version of Nguyen's recipe) and some of the sugar (about two tablespoons).

Thoroughly mix them with your fingers for a few minutes.  She notes that liquid will collect in the bowl.  I didn't see as much, but I didn't make a whole recipe so maybe that's why.

Rinse and drain the vegetables in a colander and set aside.

Next for your quick pickle, mix the rest of sugar with the water and vinegar and stir to dissolve.

Immerse the vegetables in the solution for at least an hour before you make your bánh mì sandwiches.

While the do chua is brining, thinly slice your cucumber and jalapeño,  You can seed and devein the chile, but I like a spicy chile so I left them.

Slice up your baguette, and slice each segment of baguette in half.

With fingers, hollow out some of the bread from each half of baguette.

You are ready to assemble your bánh mì.  Fill each hole you made with mayonnaise.

Add soy sauce to each slice of bread.

Fill each bánh mì with your meat of choice and your do chua...

...your cucumber and jalapeño slices, and your cilantro sprigs.

Smoosh the sides of bread together and smoosh.

I loved these intense, juicy, salty and spicy little sandwiches.  Once you have it all together it's easy to do, though for all your different components it takes a little while to make this.  It is a worthy effort and one I will pursue again in the future.

- - - - -

We are done in the Lone Star State.  We don't completely leave the southwest, heading northwest to that Great Salt Lake for jello and potatoes galore.  It's time to explore Mormon cuisine, Utah-style.

Sources:  "Simple Vegan Migas…Brownsville Style"., posted January 19, 2009.  Copyright 2010  All rights reserved.

Dr. Dan (blogger).  "Spicy 3 Chilies Texas Chili a la Crock Pot".  101 Cooking for Two, posted February 25, 2012.

Fain, Lisa.  "My Oven-Baked Brisket".  Homesick Texan, posted December 16, 2008.  Copyright Homesick Texan.  All rights reserved. 

Goldwyn, Craig "Meathead".  "Barbecue Beef Brisket Texas Style".  Amazing Ribs updated March 2, 2012.  Copyright Amazing Ribs.  All rights reserved.

Guía de Tacos (  "Enchiladas norteñas".  Date unknown.

Johnson Miller, Ruthie.  "Banh mi, oh my! The top five Vietnamese sandwich shops in Houston".  Culture Map Houston, posted February 26, 2011.  Copyright 2009-2012 Culture Map, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Nguyen, Andrea.  "Daikon and Carrot Pickle Recipe (Do Chua)".  Viet World Kitchen, posted May 17, 2009.  Copyright 2002-2012 Andrea Nguyen.  All rights reserved.

Nguyen, Andrea.  "Master Banh Mi Sandwich Recipe".  Viet World Kitchen, posted June 17, 2009.  Copyright 2002-2012 Andrea Nguyen.  All rights reserved.

Shuttlesworth, Patrise.  "Tex-Mex vs. New Mex: Not Just About Jalapeños or Green Chiles".  On the Road, a Houston Press Blog, posted March 26, 2012.  Copyright Houston Press.  All rights reserved.

Sliter Satterwhite, Shannon. "Make a Batch of Texas Chili".  Southern Living Magazine, October 2005.

von der Mehden, Fred R. "Vietnamese".  Handbook of Texas Online.  Date unknown.  Published by the Texas State Historical Association.  Copyright 2012 Texas State Historical Association, published by the Texas State Historical Association, and distributed in partnership with the University of North Texas Sponsors.  All rights reserved.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Texas" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Texas".