Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Sandwich That Colonized My Heart

Truth in advertisement. Beers are in the cooler aisle.
The history of European colonialism is long, sordid, tragic, full of evil acts and shameful; the consequences to this day reverberate globally and will for some time.

I will never gloss over that fact.

Our own interactions in United States history have similar shameful stains: slavery, the diaspora of the First People, institutional racism, Japanese internment, and so on.

However the world, and human culture, marches forward and usually heals these wounds - often through cuisine.

Here in the United States of America tragedies like African slavery have given us the blues, rock and roll and jazz; Cajun and Creole food, barbeque, po' boys, endless culinary tweaks added to European classics from Afro-Caribbean and aboriginal influences.

Hell... pizza would not even be possible as we know it today without a certain fruiting nightshade indigenous to South America (which, for centuries, Europeans stupidly eschewed, assuming it was poisonous).

It is also said that Marco Polo brought pasta back from China to the Venato. I doubt that - almost every culture that has been around cultivated grain has developed a noodle.

One of my favorite culinary portmanteau is the glorious "bahn mi" sandwich of Vietnam - a real "melting pot" of culinary influences. Consider the construction, and origins:
  • A Vietnamese baguette, adapted from French colonialists;
  • Pork and pork pâté, from the Spanish pig and the French country charcuterie;
  • Peppers, and pepper sauce, from the South American fruit (likely present in South East Asian centuries before Columbus sailed the ocean blue);
  • Mayonnaise, also adapted from the French;
  • Cilantro from India;
  • Pickles of Vietnamese origin and style;
  • Vietnamese hot sauces and nam-pla (fish sauce);
  • Vietnamese preparations of pork.
Fun fact: Ho Chi Mihn was a classically trained French chef.

I had never had a bahn mi before moving to San Francisco, despite Cleveland's large Vietnamese immigrant population in enclaves both on the East and West sides of the Cuyahoga River.

The Bay Area is rife with shops that specialize only in bahn mi, restaurants who specialize in bahn mi and that other classic rib-sticking, soul soothing Vietnamese delicacy phô, food carts that turn bahn mi out and my personal favorite source of bahn mi, the corner shop (aka, bodega).

Prices range from under $2 to as much as $15, but I refuse to pay more than $7 for a bahn mi.

Duc Loi Supermarket in San Francisco's Mission is a bodega on steroids that is one half Latin mercado and one half Asian bazaar.

$5 buys you a sizable bahn mi, and $2 more will get you taro or plantain chips made fresh daily.

This beautiful woman makes a miraculous sandwich.
I ordered one the other day after a day of fasting (damn blood work! Be sure to get a checkup once a year, kids). I had to eat it in two rounds, so stuffed with goodness this culture clash of a sandwich.

Be sure to ask for extra hot sauce and chilis.

The deli worker caught me snapping photos of their menu, so I will give credit where credit is due: "My son took those pictures (of the menu items)."

Well, deli lady, your son has a special talent at photography - and the bahn mi was every bit as eye-catching as advertised. Deli lady, you have a talent for making sandwiches!

Thanks, Duc Loi!