Location: Hue, Vietnam
A Minor Disclosure: Yes, the images above are of a woman sitting on a sidewalk toasting baguettes on a dirty metal stove over a fire inside of a cardboard box lined with used newspaper. Yes, she is using her bare, unwashed hands to turn the bread. Yes, those are damp, stained towels dangling on the side of the box. No, the lack of hygiene and the total disregard for general fire safety does not bother me. Why? Well, a couple immune-system-boosting months in Southeast Asia can really change your perspective on food preparation.
A few minutes after I took these photographs, I ate one of those baguettes.
The woman, whose fingertips are pictured so delicately cradling my future-food, sliced it open with a serrated knife and generously slathered both the top and bottom with mayo and hot sauce. She then stuffed it with thinly sliced pork, fresh cilantro, a gravy-like layer of pate, strips of pickled carrots and radishes, and chopped cucumbers. Lastly, she wrapped it all up in a section of newspaper and placed it inside a plastic bag and held it out to me.
I handed her a 10,000 dong note, the equivalent of about $0.45. I then plopped myself down on one of the plastic footstools beside her street kitchen and feasted.
This delectable creation is the classic banh mi. "Banh mi" translates to "bread" in English. It's one of the most common meals you can find in Vietnamese cities; both alley carts and upscale cafes sell the traditional sandwiches. They're best hot, which is why I prefer this kind of sidewalk snacking, which allows the least amount of time between the toasting and the food entering my mouth. And I kid you not, I could live off these salty-sweet-crunchy-crispy-chewy-spicy-meaty-vinegary goodies.
This particular sandwich was not only the cheapest one I'd had so far in Vietnam, but also the tastiest. If dirty utensils and potential fire hazards is what it takes to perfectly flavor my banh mi, then screw proper food preparation, I'm down.