Café Chew’s Banh Mi
Asking a Vietnamese chef to slap together a turkey on whole wheat with mayo, lettuce and tomato is like asking Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to drive a minivan. In Vietnam, food is not just something to throw down during the final episode of The Bachelor, or a quick way to tackle a hangover. In Vietnam the food is greatly celebrated and sewn into the very essence of their lifestyle. The word “eat”, translated to “ăn” in Vietnamese, is incorporated into life’s everyday tasks: to speak (ăn noi), to dress (ăn mặc), to live (ăn ở), to sleep (ăn ngủ). Vietnamese chefs use the yin yang philosophy as their main ingredient—opposites joining together in perfect balance: crunchy and soft, warm and cool. They believe in creating meals that appeal to all five human senses: bright, bold flavors stimulate the taste buds; beautiful colored ingredients are a feast for the eyes; the crunch of fresh, crisp ingredients are pleasing to the ear; varied textures awaken the feelings in the hands and mouth; and the wondrous scent of aromatic herbs complete the experience.
Café Chew in Sandwich has a Vietnamese Banh Mi on their menu that does a fine job of triggering all five senses. Tender, slow roasted pork in a lemony rub of paprika, garlic salt and pepper meet layers of fresh cilantro and crisp, English cucumbers. Between the pork and cukes is an Asian slaw of Daikon radish and carrots that have been kneaded with salt and sugar to extract moisture, then pickled, which can keep the slaw crisp for over a year (with the volume Cafe Chew does, though, it barely lasts a couple of weeks).
Now that you have soft and tender with bright, crisp and crunchy, the sandwich is treated to a delicately spiced slathering of creamy Banh Mi sauce made from mayonnaise, cream cheese, sriracha and soy sauce. “I call it the Sassy Sauce!” co-owner and prep cook Bob King states. “The prep is pretty standard, with the exception of the cream cheese, that was added completely by mistake. I sometimes use an old cream cheese container I keep around as a unit of measure, like I'll say, ‘give me a cream cheese container amount of mayo.’ It’s easy to misunderstand if you’re new to my kitchen. So one day in went the cream cheese with the mayo, but guess what? It added a whole new dimension!” Typically Banh Mi are served on baguette-style bread, but Cafe Chew, never afraid to re-invent the meal, serves theirs on toasted ciabatta. “It’s easier to eat,” King confides. “Baguettes can be too crunchy. I wanted most of the crunch coming from the inside.” King and his partner Tobin Wirt are celebrating their sixth year with Cafe Chew, which continues to be loved by locals and visitors alike. Their Banh Mi even won the “People’s Choice” award at this year’s SandwichFest.
Cookbook author, culinary instructor and all-around champion of American cuisine, James Beard, once said, “Too few people understand a really good sandwich.” In retrospect, and with no offense to the turkey on whole wheat, he was probably right. If only Mr. Beard had popped into Cafe Chew.
~ Tom Dott
4 Merchants Road, Sandwich
508-888-7717 / cafechew.com
Open for breakfast and lunch daily, 8:00 am-3:00 pm