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Saigon Bakery


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Tried the newly reopened Banh Mi Saigon Bakery at 138-01 Mott Street (at Grand St. tel 212-941-1541) in Chinatown today for a late lunch. This place used to be housed in a tiny, dingy shop under the Manhattan Bridge, but has just relocated to bright and very clean new digs on Mott which are shared with a Vietnamese jade jeweler. I only tried their sandwich at the old location once, since I never would make it over there before their bizarrely early 2pm closing time. However, I did make it today to their new location and am very glad that I did.

 

The menu featured only four items. #1 is the "Saigon banh mi", their combination sandwich ($3). #2 is the "banh mi ga", chicken sandwich ($3). #3 is green papaya salad with shrimp ($4.50). #4 is "banh uot cha lua", steamed rice flour rolls with sliced vietnamese pork roll garnish.

 

I had the #1 and #4. The banh mi was superb, with just the right combination of crunchy picked daikon and carrots to roast pork pieces and pork roll , the bread was very lightly mayonnaised, and garnished with cilantro and jalapeno slices. The bread was superior to that found at Banh Mi So. 1 on Broome St. or Nicky's in the East Village, super crunchy and flavorful. I suspect that they use the right combination of wheat and rice flours in the roll, as they do in Vietnam. The banh uot cha lua is currently in the fridge waiting for dinner, but looks promising in that there is plenty of very fresh looking bean sprouts, cucumber slices, and picked veggies as garnish atop a generous serving of pork roll and rice rolls.

 

The place is takeout only, although there are a few benches along the wall across from the jade jewelry display cases where i suppose it would be okay to eat.

 

The strange thing I couldn't figure out is why it took fifteen minutes for my small order to be prepared when I was the only person in the store. It turns out that they get a lot of large phone orders, and before I had come in someone had phoned in an order for twenty #1 banh mi's. Yikes.

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I forgot to mention that item #4 "banh uot cha lua" costs $4.

 

Here's a link to an explanation of vietnamese-style baguettes and a recipe, from the website of food writer Andrea Nguyen. She gives Corinne Trang's recipe which calls for 50% wheat flour and 50% rice flour, but as somebody remarks on the site, and I agree, this seems like too high a proportion of rice flour (should be more like 10-20% rice flour).

 

http://www.vietworldkitchen.com/features/baguette_recipe.htm

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I think I saw Vietnamese bread flour (pre mixed rice+wheat) for sale at an asian market, but not sure if it was here or in Minneapolis. There's also pre-mixed Bao flour (different ratios of rice to wheat, I think, plus some leavening agent?), which I bought with the full intention of making Bao and threw away a couple of years later.

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The pre-mixed Vietnamese flours have never really worked out well for me when I have used them at home. For some reasons everything turns out dry with some nasty baking soda overtones even when I follow the instructions on the package to the letter. I have a feeling many of the mixes are old with some funky preservatives, which does not help the situation. Freshly ground rice flour is, unfortunately, almost a must for great-tasting Vietnamese foods. The sweet rice soaking, food processing, straining, and drying is a royal pain in the ass but the results are well worth it.

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Oooo- a vietnamese baguette project; awesome! I have to admit though that eaten alone, Viet baguettes don't hold a candle to the best french-style baguettes which are infinitely more flavorful due to great organic wheat flour and quality yeast/levain. Viet baguettes are more about the crunch and super light and airy interior which marries perfectly with banh mi fillings.

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In LA Bahn Mi typically go for $1.50-$2.50 depending on the fillings.

 

I've been going to the same place in LA's Chinatown for almost 10 years.

 

There is a smear of something yellow in some of the sandwiches. Looks sort of like melted margarine, but it doesn't taste like (doesn't taste like butter either, obviously). No one at the shop really speaks English. They didn't even have an English menu untill just a few years ago.

 

Does anyone know what it is?

 

Oh yeah, according to my husband the Vietnamese bakeries do better baguettes than the so called artisanl bakeries.

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The yellow spread on the baguette is most likely home-made mayonnaise. Most quality banh mi joints will make a fresh batch every morning, sometimes using duck egg yolks which accounts for the deep yellow color.

 

Sigh; how I do miss Los Angeles, home of the three banh mi's for $3 deals and cheap produce (no $8/lb lychees there!). However, I definitely don't miss the traffic. You win some, you lose some :)

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Unfortunately i've never encountered anything aside from butter, mayonnaise, or liver pate spread onto the bread in banh mi, so perhaps this store has their own unique ingredient they use on the bread. A possibility may be rendered pork or chicken fat, which some Vietnamese cooks use in place of butter from time to time.

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CHICKEN FAT!

 

I'm almost sure that's it. I'm not familiar with schmaltz enough to identify it outside of an appropriately labeled package.

 

Thank you, it's been something I've been wondering about in the back of my head for over 10 years.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I got the chicken bahn mi and I thought it was excellent. The bread was as bahn described, to my eye seemed very fresh and a step above the usual. Just the right amount of mayo, lots of chicken. I would've liked it to be a touch spicier but that is my only complaint.

 

I would like to try the shrimp and papaya my next visit. And I misunderstood bahn's post -- this one isn't a bahn mi.

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Abbylovi, I went back a little while ago and tried the papaya and shrimp salad and it was decent, but nothing special. I tend to like the spicy thai version of green papaya salad better, with all the dried shrimp, salted crab, and long beans adding a lot of interest to the dish. The version at Saigon Bakery is very austere, only finely shredded green papaya, with basil leaves and shrimps sliced in half atop the mound of papaya. The fish sauce dressing is served separately in a plastic container. The salad was refreshing and the ingredients all very fresh, but boring and kind of one-dimensional and once I got home I added some dried shrimp and minced jalapeno to the salad to the jazz things up.

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