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Banh Mi

My Affair with Banh Mi

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My Affair with Banh Mi

The Rogue (Jonathan Forester) | Apr 5, 2002 06:31 PM

My Affair with Banh Mi
by J. Forester

Not too very long ago I fell in love. It was an intense affair and she was a sassy lass. Asian by nature, Vietnamese to be more specific. I am a lucky lad to have found her. Or did she find me? Sometimes I wonder about that. There is such a magnetism between us. I remember that she kicked me head over tuchus at first meeting and it has been a tumultuous encounter ever since. Our exchanges are brief, never more than a few stolen minutes here and there. A few short moments of hurried pleasure, grabbed as time and circumstances will allow. It has been an extended affair. Sometimes we don’t run into each other for months, even years at a time. When we do it is as magic as the first time. That wonder and surprise, the fireworks, happen all over again. I’m always amazed that I let her slip from my life. Time and again. To forget how much I like her. Want her. I guess it’s one of my failings. Some subconscious thing. Is she too much for me? To intense for a long term commitment? Or maybe it’s that quick kick I get from experiencing her anew.

We run into each other all over the place. The first time was in Seattle where our fling carried on for almost a year. The next time was a few years later down in Hotlanta, Georgia. That one was a short one time meeting. A chance dalliance that ended all too soon. It was quite awhile before we ran into each other again. Probably five years or more since that time down South. This time is was in New York. A good buddy of mine, Canchito Joe, ran into her. Actually he said he read an article about her and sought her out. He told me about his experience with her and it was similar to my own. He was surprised to know that I had been involved with her so intimately and for such a long time. He never even knew that we had met. Well, I had no clue how to locate her, to track her down, but Joe, being the good buddy that he is helped me out. He knew that she was not just for one man. That she was to be shared by those who appreciate her. My good friend gave me the names and locations of a few places in Little Vietnam. A section surrounding Chinatown like the ring around a bullseye. He said not to worry, she would be easy to find. He was right. I had little problem seeking her out and this time, like those before, was magic. It all came back. Everything I remembered so fondly about her. We instantly started up right where we had last left off. That magic and intensity was back. I couldn’t get enough of her. Those changing moods fitting mine so well. Constantly challenging me with the varying aspects of her personality. I hadn’t realized that my life had become so empty until it was full once more.

She is a spicy little darling full of surprises. Simple yet elegant, with a hidden hint of third world roughness veneered with a fine overlay of French and Asian culture. Her name is Banh Mi… two words that cannot begin to describe her charms. I looked forward to renewing our friendship, our tumultuous affair.

Banh Mi… even the sound of her name is a delight. But who is this woman you ask? What is so special about her? Oh, she’s not a woman, she’s a sandwich. You wouldn’t think that a lowly sandwich could be praised so lavishly. To fall in love? A sandwich for a mistress? But it’s true. She has conquered me and I am smitten.

The Banh Mi is one of those fusion happenings when one country occupies another of a totally different nature. This time it can be credited to both the French colonization of Vietnam and the American G.I.’s stationed there during the war that wasn’t. We all know the intense and exotic beauty of an Eurasian woman. The blend of the familiar with the exotic that is intense and pleasing to the senses. It is the same with the Vietnamese sandwich, Banh Mi. First one looks at the bread. It is a short and plump French baguette. Crispy on the outside and fluffy inside. Made with a special blend of regular and rice flour to give it that luscious crisp fluffy combination. It is heated until steaming hot, then sliced and gently folded open. A smear of mayonnaise, spicy or plain. A dash of hot sauce and a splash of a soy / fish sauce blend. A quick spread of pate, a few thin slices of cold roast ham or pork, maybe some small chunks of hot, fresh roasted, sweet barbecued pork. On top of that is a nice blend of julienned, pickled carrots and radish, some long cucumber slices, a small bunch of cilantro and if you are lucky some sliced jalapeno or other bright chili. There isn’t much to it. It’s no overstuffed sandwich. But what there is, is magical. It takes over the senses. She has this transcendent quality, a melding of cultures that catches first the eye. Then the tongue. Contrasting textures and flavors combining to a hedonistic experience. Every bite has a different flavor and texture hot spice, sweet meats, crisp vegetables both plain and tangy. Oh I wish I could have my Banh Mi every day. What a life that would be. I think that time would start to stand still and I would live forever. Aah, the joys of Banh Mi.

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