Annoying, isn't it, that whenever anyone you know goes to San Fran, they come back moaning about the food. OMG, the burritos are amazing. HOLY CRAP the vietnamese is SICK. DUDE there was vegan awesome stuff EVERYWHERE. The coffee RULED
And here I go being that exact annoying foodnerd.
I tell people CLT has awesome Vietnamese, because it does - there's tons of tiny mom+pops, good, cheap bowls of pho, Banh Xeo's, noodles, hotpots, all of it. There's even several that cater heavily to the Veg crowd, and we eat at them spots incessantly. The one thing I haven't found in the QC, however, is decent tofu Banh Mi. I've had one sad excuse for a sammich in SCLT, a few months back, and it was so sad, so forlorn... all gross, sticky, stale, damp, and covered in fish sauce, yikes. Nope.
But of course, my darlin' bud N had a spot in mind for a quick bite on our way back into town from hiking, and for 3.50, white-paper-present-toasty-bread-1/2-pound-tofu-fresh-veggie-perfect-pickle- it seriously took me 2 minutes to down this thing, and that was while trying to be polite since we were in the car and everyone was saving theirs.
I must recreate.
Tofu Banh Mi - bánh mì chay
So, you probably know the drill. Fresh french bread, day-of-baking. Sliced: jalapenos and cuke. Homemade: pickles, mayo (optional - some people adamantly refuse to mayo their sammich, and to them I say, good luck to ya!), some cilantro, and...the tofu.
I really dig trying to recreate flavors from memory. It's hard.
The San Fran OMGbanhmi's tofu had some key characteristics going for it, according to my noggin:
The tofu was warm.
The tofu was fried, but soft.
The tofu was extremely juicy - so that in eating the sammich, you had to appreciate the bread's crust as a barrier between all that juice and your lap.
The tofu was subtle, and balanced the other ingredients well.
There was no fish sauce on the tofu. Yay!
I have a ton of bottles of awesome vegetarian sauces in my larder, thanks to the amazing selection of asian groceries in Charlotte. I chose Vegetarian Oyster-style sauce as my base, since it has a slightly smokey, sweet undertone to it. In fact, that's pretty much all it tastes like - sweet, molassessy. Into my pyrex bowl goes 2 tablespoons.
Meanwhile, I've cubed the 'fu, tossed it with 2 tablespoons rice flour, a little salt. Heated the oil, dropped the tofu in, it's sizzling away.
Add to the sauce 2 garlic cloves, minced, 2 scallions, minced, a dash salt, a dash sugar, 10-12 grinds fresh black pepper (I remember this from the SFBM - flecks of black pepper, cool!) 3 tablespoons water, to thin and coat. Mix well.
And that's it. As soon as your tofu is golden, using a slotted spoon, drain it well and toss it into the sauce. Mix and let sit 5 minutes, to soften your crust.
And make your sammich. The Times has an AMAZING diagram you should consult, back from the not-totally-obsessed with Banh Mi yet days - check it out.
Eat it NOW!