SF’s Saigon Sandwiches: NOT vegan (or even vegetarian), but can be made so!  »

An AWESOME Vietnamese-speaking friend of Vegansaurus very kindly helped us get the full answer on whether or not Saigon Sandwiches cooks their tofu in meat juice and the crappy answer is: YES, the do. This is major-bummer sadness, but our investigator also reported that the sandwich artists were really nice and super forthcoming with a solution, even though he didn’t even ask for one! Turns out, you can ask for the tofu to be cooked with soy sauce (make sure to specify no fish sauce, just soy sauce!) and BAM! It’s vegan! Without the mayo, of course.

Man, life can be complicated sometimes. But it can also be delicious, and I’m here to report that with all those specifications, this sandwich is THE BOMB. I also just thought of something: we should encourage them to put up a sign by the tofu sandwich that says, “Ask if you want it made vegetarian or vegan” so that people know the tofu isn’t automatically veg. I bet if enough people ask (politely! And get your Vietnamese-speaking friends to ask, too! Or get them to teach you how to ask in Vietnamese and practice a bunch to make sure you don’t embarrass yourself/accidentally ask one of the employees to eat your mom’s penis!), it would happen. I’m currently in the Marty’s vegan dining rules state of mind where I ask about ERRYTHANG but you know, lots of people don’t. And it’s a bummer when your tofu comes covered in blood, for realz.

If you are getting an enormous sandwich for about 10 cents from a hole in the wall that’s crazy crowded and the sandwich artisans are working at crazy fast speed and you don’t speak their language, you’re just gonna have to decide if it’s worth it or not. if it is, you just gotta let go and let god, you feel me? I am OK with eating the tofu banh mi from Saigon Sandwiches (tofu cooked in soy sauce/no mayo, natch) because I am super-poor, I go at slower times of the day so nothing’s rushed, and I want to support their veg options. I also have a stomach of steel and when the apocalypse comes (three days!), I’ll be totally fine eating directly from garbage cans and sewers.* Anyway, I’m off track, the point is, if that makes you uncomfortable—perfectly understandable, you’re a better person than I—then you gotta find another place to get your banh mi fix! I’m not sure where, as I don’t think Banh Mai is still serving, and I haven’t tried Bun Mee yet. Anyone? They have an eggplant banh mi that looks pretty awesome—anyone know if it’s vegan? Or do I have to go do more investigative journalism?

[unappetizing pic of half-eaten tofu banh mi from yelp!]

*And you know what? You will too if you want to defeat that devil army!


Banh Mi by Mai!  »

The Mission, already a magical neighborhood where vegans can eat like royalty, has become even better. How can this be so, in the land of soy milk and agave nectar? Fresh, delicious, vegan banh mi made to order and delivered to your door, is how.

Mai of just launched Banh Mai, a one-woman Vietnamese sandwich operation based in the Mission. She has a vegan, a vegetarian, and a meat version; of course, Vegansaurus sampled the cruelty-free sandwich, delivered to our hot little hands on a Friday evening by Mai on her bicycle. The vegan sandwich contains standard banh mi ingredients—pickled carrot and daikon radish, julienned; jalapenos; and cilantro—on a rice and wheat baguette, but the magic is in the vegan paté, a combination of shitake mushrooms, baked tofu, walnuts, garlic, and green bell pepper. The tofu is baked with sriracha, soy sauce, and garlic. I’ve never had a Vietnamese sandwich like it before, it’s incredible. Mai packed the pickled vegetables separately, to prevent mushiness, and I recommend cramming them all into your sandwich and letting it sit for a few minutes before eating, to allow the good, crusty roll to soak up some of the sweet and tangy pickling juices. You will die of happiness.

It may not be the spiciest, for spicy food connoisseurs; I found it a touch hotter than I would’ve asked for and I’m a huge wimp, so let’s call the heat level medium and exactly right. Everything was so fresh; the vegetables were crispy, the roll was chewy, the tofu paté added this great texture plus moisture so that, unlike your standard banh mi, it didn’t want for lack of mayonnaise. Finally, it sticks with you, but not in a stone-in-your-stomach kind of way; I ate an entire sandwich before going out for the night, spent four hours dancing, and didn’t get hungry at all. Everyone needs to eat a banh mi by Mai, like, yesterday, I haven’t had a better sandwich this year. Real Talk.

Special Interview Section!
Vegansaurus: Why did you start Banh Mai?

Mai: [To be] part of the San Francisco street food movement; [I] wanted to do Vietnamese sandwiches because I miss this aspect of life in Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon—a place where I lived last year. also, I used my mom’s recipes for elements of the sandwiches, so these are the type of sandwiches I grew up eating: loads of meat filling/vegan filling, great daikon/carrot pickling, homemade mayo. “Banh Mai” is a a play on the name of the type of bread used/what we in the states call Vietnamese sandwiches, and my first name.

What are the service details?
I started delivering in the Mission last week. Wednesdays and Thursdays [are delivery days], 10-sandwich minimum, might be able to cluster orders for smaller offices. [I require a] two-day preorder (since I cook specifically for orders), or early morning pre-order if you want to pick-up with small orders (6 or less) or for vegan sandwiches.

Follow me on twitter and send me a message I’ll get in touch via direct message. Lunch deliveries will happen between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30p.m.; pick-ups can happen in the Mission, before 11:15 a.m. or after 1:30 p.m. My housemate might help me, so we could extend days/ times for pick-up delivery. We might add Mondays; follow @banhmai for changes.

Where are your ingredients from?
The bread is from Bui Phong, a Vietnamese bakery in San Jose that makes as close to the Vietnamese-style baguette of rice/wheat mixture that we have in the West. the wheat/rice baguettes in HCMC have a lot more rice and so it tastes slightly different, but it’s as close as we get in the U.S. Also, it’s the type I grew up eating (in Los Angeles) for Banh Mi sandwiches. I buy most ingredients from Duc Loi supermarket or other markets in the Mission. Whenever I can buy organic, I do, but I’m trying to keep costs relatively low while still making a quality product.

How did you invent the recipe for the vegetarian paté?
It’s a remodeled recipe from a restaurant I used to work for. I used shitake instead of those white mushrooms, put in more garlic, [and] left out the parmesan [cheese]. The baked tofu recipe is my mom’s.

I’d like people to know that the recipes for my sandwiches come from my Mom. I’m not sure how this will pan out for the long haul, but right now I’m happy sharing my Mom’s awesome cooking with San Francisco. (And as my friend Alicia has pointed out, I don’t skimp with amounts; moms never skimp with amounts to keep prices low.) Also, I’m biking as fast as I can, but that isn’t very fast right now.

Thanks, Mai! Go eat a sandwich, everyone.

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