I was talking to my youngest sister (who blogs at Food for Thought
) about the way the universe repays our bad behavior. She told me how, as punishment for driving the short distance to the train station instead of walking or biking, she misplaced her car in the station’s parking lot, not finding it until after she had reported it stolen to the police and her insurance company.
Similarly, I have been the recipient of a little universal justice of my own, for neglecting the loyal readers of this blog. Let me explain:
A few months ago, on his last visit, my second-youngest brother (who blogs at Auschglitz
) and I were discussing our love of Vietnamese food. He told me about the Vietnamese baguette sandwich (banh-mi)
. He described a sandwich of marinated meat and crisp vegetables on a buttery baguette. I resolved to find one in Salt Lake, and eat it.
I vaguely remembered seeing some pre-made sandwiches on the counter at the old location of the Tay-do Asian market. That store is not for the faint of heart, dealing in unfamiliar products both animal and vegetable, and smelling sometimes of inadequate refrigeration. But I was determined, so I purchased the shrink wrapped sandwich from a shallow cardboard box by the cash register for two dollars, and took it back to work.
This sandwich turned out to be the banh mi dac biet (combination baguette), which is the traditional favorite with four kinds of meat, including pate and head cheese. Getting past the strange yet familiar flavors of the variety meats, I was hugely impressed. Pickled julienne carrots and diakon provide the bulk of sandwich filling, complimented by cucumber, jalapeño slices, cilantro, and green onion. Juice form the vegetables mixes with the meat and the singularly yellow mayonnaise to moisten the dryness of the flaky baguette.
So enthused was I about this sandwich that I returned to Tay-do each of the following two days, finding that they would, if asked, make sandwiches from scratch, with different fillings including grilled and barbecued pork. Maybe I charged too hard out of the gate, but after the third day, I didn’t want a Vietnamese sandwich again for a while. The Tay-do’s sandwiches unashamedly incorporate the flavors of organ meat and cool animal fat (like that head cheese) into their sandwiches, and I’m not quite ready for that.
A few weeks later I was having lunch at Pho Green Papaya
, and it occurred to me to ask the manager of that restaurant if she knew where to get banh mi.
She didn’t know the name, but suggested a coffee shop in Carriage Square, an aging strip mall on 4100 South and Redwood Road, where many of the empty spaces have been occupied by small ethnic businesses (check out the google street view here
On my second try I found Café Thao Mi, located on the south side of the south side of the shopping center between a botanica
and a Tandy Leather store. The interior is spacious, fastidiously clean, and well appointed in with IKEA-modern furnishings. The woman at the counter answered all my questions about the food in very understandable English (not vital to my enjoyment of the place, but welcome nonetheless). I ordered a grilled pork baguette to go, which was prepared to order and served rolled in white paper secured with a rubber band for $2.50 plus tax.
This was the sandwich I had been seeking. All the positives of the earlier example were present, but in a bigger and fresher package, super-spicy with jalapenos and the addition of Sriracha from the big bottle on the counter. In the ensuing weeks I became obsessed, lunching there two or three times a week, talking about it all the time, and dragging coworkers to try it. I felt, as I often do when I find an exciting new lunch spot, a misguided sense of ownership. But I didn’t take my camera, or write any of it down.
And that was the cosmic payback I referred to earlier. One colleague, a transplant from the Bay Area already familiar with baguettes, and one of the first to try Café Thao Mi with me, mentioned the place to his wife, who told their neighbor, who writes about food for the Salt Lake Tribune. The bahn mi
at Café Thao Mi appeared in the "Best Bites
" section of the newspaper on the Friday before last. I was scooped. The special place that belonged just to me (and the entire Vietnamese population of Salt Lake City) was now on display to the whole world.
The food is still excellent, though. In addition to grilled pork on the baguette, I can heartily recommend the saucier barbecue pork, and both grilled and barbecue chicken. They also offer the traditional combination sandwich. Though it’s hard to leave the sandwich menu, I have enjoyed the bun (vermicelli noodle salad), fried egg rolls, and potent Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk. They also offer a large selection of fruit smoothies (including durian, soursop
, and jackfruit
smoothies) soups, and rice dishes.
I’ve learned my lesson. Digital cameras are for more than just baby pictures
, and no one reads a blog with no new posts. Thanks, universe.
View some more photos here