The Greatest Banh Mi I’ve ever had…

…And maybe the greatest sandwich I’ve ever had, period?  It’s right up there, that’s for sure.

Banh mi, for the unaware, is a Vietnamese sandwich served on a version of a baguette.  I’ve had a few since arriving in Vietnam.  They’re typically served in roadside stalls like this one.

Banh mi in Vietnam

Or this one.

Banh mi in Vietnam

That last one featured a banh mi that was filled with grilled meat patties.  It was quite tasty, but the patties were a bit too dry.

Banh mi in Vietnam

One of the better ones that I’ve had (up until the mind-blowing best ever that I’ll get to in a moment) is from a place called Banh My Lan Ong in Hanoi.

Banh mi in Vietnam

They’re famous for their freshly-made pate (you can even buy it in little plastic tubs from the restaurant), and rightfully so.  That pate is absolutely amazing; a little bit chunkier than the norm, with a very mild liver flavour that’s balanced perfectly by the pate’s unique spicing (it has quite a strong cinnamon flavour).

Banh mi in Vietnam

But the bread itself was a bit overly crunchy; one of the great things about a banh mi baguette is the very light, crackly exterior and the fluffy interior.  This one was aggressively crunchy — it’s the type of bread that’ll tear up the inside of your mouth if you don’t eat it carefully.

Banh mi in Vietnam

The greatest banh mi of all time, oddly enough, was a random discovery.  I was just walking around in Hanoi and saw a very impressive line for a place called Banh My Pho Hue; if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you know that I absolutely cannot resist a line for food.  And even if that had never paid off for me, it still would have been worth it a billion times over for allowing me to discover this place, because oh man.  Oh man, this sandwich.

Banh mi in Vietnam

It’s so simple: a slathering of butter, a heaping spread of pate, a little bit of pork floss, a few slices of cold cuts, and a few slices of plain cucumber.  There’s none of the pickled veggies or herbs that you find in a lot of other banh mi, and you don’t miss it.

Banh mi in Vietnam

You can add on a little bit of the zingy chili sauce they have on the side (and you should definitely do this), but other than that it’s a pretty basic sandwich.

Banh mi in Vietnam

The bread is ridiculous; it’s satisfyingly crispy on the outside, and fluffy as a cloud on the inside. You can eat this sandwich as aggressively as you want — you’re not going to cut your mouth.  And yet that outer crisp is still very much there, it’s just amazingly delicate.

Banh mi in Vietnam

The pate, like at Banh My Lan Ong, is a bit chunky, and absolutely amazing.  It’s easily the star of the show, and is complimented perfectly by the creamy butter, the cold cuts, the pork floss, and the fresh crunchiness of the cucumber.

It’s a simple sandwich, but all of the components are so delicious and work together so well that it’s a revelation.  If I were to list the top five sandwiches that I’ve ever eaten, it’d be on there for sure.

Mushy, but Good

Tokoman in Amsterdam, NetherlandsThanks to its colonialist history, Surinamese cuisine is quite common in Amsterdam (the history of colonialism is pretty horrifying, but at the very least some good food came out of it.  So… glass half full?).

Pom Sandwich from Tokoman in Amsterdam, Netherlands

I’d heard good things about the pom sandwich at Tokoman — pom is basically a mash consisting of a sweet potato-esque root vegetable called arrowleaf elephant ear root, with pieces of chicken mixed in along with some spices.

It’s basically a mush sandwich, but it’s surprisingly good.  It’s sweet, with the unique spices adding some complexity, and the chicken adding substance.   The very fresh baguette was absolutely perfect, with the delicately crispy exterior adding a nice contrast to the soft filling.

The Line Failed Me

The Green Bench Cafe in Dublin, IrelandI’ve written before about how I’m powerless to resist a line-up for food.  Yes, some restaurants can be over-hyped, but generally speaking if a place is popular enough to generate a long line, the food is probably pretty good.

So I got pretty excited when I saw the line at the Green Bench Cafe, a takeout joint (or “takeaway,” as they call it here) that’s well known for its sandwiches.  I mean, look at this crowd:

The Green Bench Cafe in Dublin, Ireland

All those people can’t be wrong!

The Green Bench Cafe in Dublin, Ireland

Or maybe they can.  I got the beef brisket sandwich, and it wasn’t bad — there was actually a lot about it that I quite liked.  But the beef (and you can’t really tell from the picture, but there was a lot of it) was super dry.  It was somewhat jerky-esque.  It kinda sucks all the moisture out of your mouth.

Grilled Cheese with Haggis

Dean's in Glasgow, ScotlandI’m starting to think that you can add haggis to literally anything, and that thing will be improved.  Because so far I’ve had haggis with breakfast, haggis on a pork sandwich, haggis in puff pastry, and haggis in a burrito, and they’ve all been surprisingly delicious.

The latest haggis mashup?  Haggis with grilled cheese (or a toastie, as it’s known in the UK).

Grilled cheese from Dean's in Glasgow, Scotland

I had this at a place in Glasgow called Dean’s, and it comes with haggis, cheddar cheese, grainy mustard, and Branston Pickle (which is essentially a sweet British chutney).

This might have been my favourite of the various haggis dishes I’ve had so far.  The haggis adds a meaty substance to the delightfully gooey cheese, the mustard adds a nice zingy counterpoint, and the sweet Branston Pickle cuts through the richness.

Like the burrito, I sort of expected this to be a bit of a novelty, and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

Burger Disappointment in Glasgow

Bread Meats Bread in Glasgow, ScotlandHaving had surprisingly amazing burgers in Germany and England, I was ready for the burger at Bread Meats Bread to be similarly mind-blowing.  It’s one of those places that comes up regularly in “best of the city” lists, so I figured that I was in for a treat.

Yeah, not so much.

Bread Meats Bread in Glasgow, Scotland

Looks good, doesn’t it? If only it tasted even close to as good as it looked.

It was surprisingly lousy — the patties were rubbery and tough, with almost zero beefy flavour.  Aside from the fact that the grind was way too fine, I’m assuming they mixed salt directly into the ground beef, which transforms the texture of the meat into something closer to a sausage.

Bread Meats Bread in Glasgow, Scotland

I mean, look at the picture of the burger’s midsection.  Note how the patties are stiff as a board.  That’s just wrong.

If it weren’t for the other two burgers I’ve had on this trip, I’d write this off as “well, I guess Europeans just don’t understand hamburgers,” but clearly they do.  In particular, the cheeseburger I had in England would probably be in the top ten burgers I’ve had in my life.  So what’s the deal?

It’s Better than it Sounds

Los Cardos in Edinburgh, ScotlandThere’s a Mexican joint in Edinburgh called Los Cardos that sells a burrito filled with haggis.  It sounds like it should be a gimmicky abomination, but it’s actually surprisingly tasty.

It’s just a standard-issue burrito otherwise — it’s filled with typical burrito ingredients like rice, beans, salsa, and cheese… plus haggis.  It shouldn’t work.  It should probably be horrible.  But it isn’t.

Los Cardos in Edinburgh, Scotland

Texturally, the haggis is fairly similar to ground beef, which is obviously a fairly typical burrito filling.  And the distinctive haggis seasoning melds surprisingly well with the Mexican flavours.

Sometimes, when you eat a weird dish like this, the reaction is “well, that was pretty good, but I’d never eat it again.”  But if haggis were a standard burrito filling, I’d be eating it all the time.  It’s great.

Porky Goodness at Oink

Oink in Edinburgh, ScotlandThere’s not a whole lot that you can absolutely, positively count on in this world, but here’s one thing:  when a restaurant has this on display in their front window, I’m gonna be going inside that restaurant.

Oink in Edinburgh, Scotland

If there’s a more glorious sight in the world, I’d like to see it.

Oink, as you might imagine, specializes in pork sandwiches.  One of the more interesting things about it are the add-ons to the sandwich; to go with the pork, you can either choose from a sage and onion topping, or haggis.  I went with haggis, because I’m in Scotland, so obviously.

You also get your choice of sauce; I had mine topped with mustard mayo.

Oink in Edinburgh, Scotland

It’s a pretty great sandwich — the pork is very simply spiced, allowing its natural flavours to shine through, and it’s nice and tender while still maintaining some texture (some sandwiches like this have a tendency to be one-note mushy).  The haggis and the mayo do a great job of complimenting the pork, but still allowing it to be the star of the show.   It’s quite good.

HOWEVER.  They get minus infinity points for having all that glorious crispy skin on display and then not including any in the sandwich. I guess you have to ask for it?  That’s ridiculous.  You’re ridiculous, Oink.  Where’s my crispy skin??

A Surprisingly Amazing Cheeseburger in London

Camden Market in London, England Yes, I ate another burger, but in my defense I dare you to watch this video and not immediately want to eat that hamburger.

(And I actually tried to eat the second burger in that video — which tantalizingly features a layer of black pudding between the two patties — but alas, it seems to have been removed from that restaurant’s menu.)

Burger and Beyond at the Camden Market in London, England

The burger I got is from a place called Burger and Beyond, which is in the Camden Market, a really interesting outdoor food court of sorts along a river.

Burger and Beyond at the Camden Market in London, England

Look at the crust on those patties!  A thing of beauty.

Burger and Beyond at the Camden Market in London, England

And the burger itself was absolutely fantastic — cheesy, beefy, juicy and amazing.  I awkwardly sawed it in half with a fork so I could get a view of its midsection, and I mean, look at that.

Burger and Beyond at the Camden Market in London, England

If I were reviewing it for Tasty Burgers, I’d give it four out of four.  It could have been slightly juicier and beefier, but that’s a very minor complaint for a superlative hamburger.

The Duck was Calling me Back

Duck confit sandwich at the Borough Market in London, EnglandWhen I was at the Borough Market, I noticed one vendor selling a duck confit sandwich that looked so good, I had to go back.

I mean, look at that griddle full of meat.  I want to shrink myself down so I can dive in like Scrooge McDuck into his money bin.  Of course I went back to try the sandwich.

Duck confit sandwich at the Borough Market in London, England

The sandwich has some greens and some kind of sweet onion jam, but what really matters is that tender, crispy, greasy duck.  They let it sit on the hot griddle long enough to get nicely browned throughout, giving you a really generous amount of crispy bits interspersed throughout the tender meat.

Food Overload at the Borough Market

Borough Market in London, EnglandSituated underneath some train tracks, the Borough Market is really distinctive and absolutely crammed with vendors selling delicious food. My kind of place.

Borough Market in London, England

It’s also surprisingly enormous. It’s the kind of place where you think you’ve seen everything, then oh wait, there’s another corner over there with about a dozen dessert vendors.

Borough Market in London, England

There were a ridiculous amount of places I would have been happy eating at, but since I had heard good things about the chorizo sandwich at Brindisa, that’s what I went with.

Chorizo sandwich from Brindisa in Borough Market in London, England

Featuring zingy chorizo sausage, a slice of roasted red pepper, peppery arugula, and enough good quality extra virgin olive oil to give it a distinctly nutty flavour, this was a sandwich that absolutely did not disappoint. It’s served in a fresh, toasty ciabatta that’s pretty much perfect. It was so good.