Photo by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
The bành mí (aka khao chī) sandwich you can only get on Saturdays — if you're quick.
While you are poking around the Lao Oriental Market (2908 E St., Eureka) on a Saturday, rooting through boxes of bitter melon and eggplants both long and golf ball sized, it's easy to overlook the unmarked stack of a couple dozen paper-wrapped bành mí sandwiches ($5.99). Easy and tragic.
Let's appreciate for a moment the Vietnamese creation — called khao chī
in Laos — that looks France in the eye and asks, frère, do you even sandwich?
The flavors of fragrant cilantro and the spicy, tart, sweet pickled radish and carrot against the mix of savory meat, eggs, tofu or fish are unmatched. Its variations are many, even reaching into the realm of dessert.
Those found at the little Henderson Center shop, brought up from the Bay Area on most Saturdays (and Saturdays only), are the version we see perhaps most often in the U.S., with a schmear of peppercorn-spiked pâté, layers of pale Vietnamese pork sausage, ham and head cheese, along with cilantro, sliced fresh jalapeños and a smattering of pickled daikon radish and carrot. The baguette is a little more delicate than the usual around here, flaking off as you unwrap your slightly dented prize. Don't dwell on the superficial imperfections. Focus on the riot of tastes, the vegetable crunch and the perfect balance of something that's come so far to meet you.