Bánh Mì in SLC
Spice Kit could have easily ruined me.
The pedigree of the bánh mì sandwich is more Banksy than Botticelli. A strange mash-up that reflects the history of Vietnam, it features an away team of French elements like crusty bread, mayonnaise, and liver pate coupled with roast pork, pickled vegetables, and greens from the Vietnamese home team. The combination of fatty umami from the pate and pork and acid from the pickled daikons and carrots makes for a nice balance in good hands. It’s also easy to see how this became popular street food, as it is a sandwich containing an ingredient list that can be prepared ahead of time and assembled into the final sandwich to order.
Unfortunately for me, my first bánh mì experience came by way of Thomas Keller and Ron Siegel. Two of their proteges, Will Pacio and Fred Tang, are behind Spice Kit. And while it might make some sense having two French-trained chefs making a sandwich that has some Gallic roots, the bánh mì at Spice Kit bears all the delicious indicia of its fine dining origins.
That being said, it did set me on the path to find a local version of the sandwich. After a bit of calling around, the universally praised option came first.
3086 S Redwood Rd
West Valley City, UT 84119
This tiny market on the west side of Salt Lake City appears to be a converted convenience store. There was a distinctively fishy smell that hit me as I entered, the source of which was presently clear: there’s a large fish counter in the back, as well at least two live crustacean selections housed in boxes on the ground. I hung a right at the counter and was at their hot food area.
I was surprised at the large selection available here. Next time I stop by, I’ll need to avail myself of some of the tasty looking spring rolls. This trip is all about the sandwich, though. I noted that there are several versions, so I may have to branch out and give others a try in the future, but I figured it made sense to start with the house special.
The house special version is their number four. I ordered one and when she looked confused and asked a question that I didn’t understand, I clarified by holding up four fingers. The prep area for the food is miniscule. It’s actually difficult to fathom how all of the food under the heat lamps could possibly have been made in the tiny kitchen. After a few minutes, she handed me a rather large bag and, on peering inside, I saw that there are many more than one sandwich. Thinking she may have mixed my order up, I clarified that I only ordered one. She separated one from the pack, puts it into a bag, and I was off to pay up front.
It was only when I was driving and about five blocks away that I realized what had happened: when I held up four fingers to her question that I didn’t catch, she took that to mean that I wanted four sandwiches. Since they were a steal at $3 each, I feel horrible at the mix up and wish I’d paid for them all.
And then I took the first bite and felt bad that I hadn’t paid for all of them for a whole different reason. That is one seriously tasty sandwich. It comes wrapped in a small piece of parchment to hold the fixings inside, secured around the sandwich with the rubber band. The bread roll is huge. Once I started eating, though, it’s clear that it is mostly air and probably even less bread substance than in your average deli sandwich.
The fillings are deliciously balanced. I love the pate they are using but didn’t get a chance to ask if they made in house. The pickled veggies are crisp if a bit sparse and are dominated by daikon and cucumber. In fact, I could have used more fillings in general to compliment the massive roll. Then again, my standard of comparison cost over $8 at Spice Kit, so for the price, this is plenty of food for the cost. I would probably have ordered two and ordered extra peppers had I not been on my way to a second purveyor.
Tay Do Supermarket
3825 S Redwood Rd
Salt Lake City, UT 84119
My experience at Tay Do Supermarket was less enjoyable. Although the rather large structure houses a much more spacious and organized market that has about 75% less stank on it, the product just didn’t measure up. I wandered through the store to the service counter in the back. The lone woman working a rather well-appointed deli area asked me to wait while she finished up making a bubble tea for the lone other customer.
Ten minutes later she was ready to take my order. Yes, ten minutes. One would think she was out back splitting durian by hand or something, but as far as I could tell, she was simply applying whipped cream to the concoction. When she finally took my order, I asked for their house special with extra pate. She looked rather annoyed, and wandered into the back area. Another five minutes later, she walked to the front counter where, if I’m not mistaken, she grabbed a sandwich from off the counter that appeared to have already been prepared and wrapped in plastic wrap. I guess somebody must have employed remote viewing skills to presage my interest in extra pate when making the sandwich before I arrived.
The sandwich cost $.50 less than at Hong Phat. It was about half as enjoyable. The pork loaf substance that was used instead of roasted pork was fairly terrible even by packaged lunch meat standards. The vegetation was sparse and barely pickled at all. There was a rather lush application of cilantro, but it was enough that it nearly overpowered the taste of meat. Tay Do uses a rather more spongy bread than Hong Phat, or perhaps it just seemed that way after having sat in the plastic wrap for a mysterious period of time. I’ll not be back to investigate.
I still have a couple of locations to visit before I call my search for perfection complete: I’m told that Cafe Thao Mi in Carriage Square and Indochine Vietnamese Bistro up by the U of U campus both make bánh mì, so I’ll plan to update when I visit both places. But at this point, if Hong Phat ends up being the best I find locally, I’ll be a pretty happy camper.