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Saigon Banh Mi So 1

I went a little sandwich crazy this Saturday. In less than thirty minutes I purchased a bocadillo from Despaña and two banh mi from this place. It was a bready Broome St. kind of afternoon.

Living in Sunset Park for a decent spell, Ba Xuyen has always been my go to spot. I think I've only tried So 1 once or twice, and years ago. I'd forgotten how many choices they had and how vegetarian friendly (lots of fake meat, gluten stuff) their banh mis can be. I was intrigued by a handwritten sign advertising chicken curry banh mi, but went with the classic, which is almost always a #1.

It's hard not to compare the Brooklyn and Manhattan sandwiches. Both are from the upper echelon of Saigon subs, but I'm partial to the Sunset Park style. I could be totally wrong, but Ba Xuyen's bread seems crispier, while So 1 has a softer style, more like an Italian roll. So 1 also uses more sausage, which I think is liberally laced with five-spice powder. Not a bad flavor, but it gives the sandwich an overall Chinese-y flair.

Like when I was in Hong Kong, certain stores just smelled Chinese, which I finally deduced meant five-spice powder to my senses. Much of Malaysia smelled, well, Malaysian. You'd be in a mall, walk past a store and get a whiff of Malaysia that I ultimately narrowed down to being toasted shrimp paste. I'm not sure what Vietnamese smells like–maybe lemongrass? Fish sauce, too, I guess. Nuoc cham?

Maybe it was just luck of the draw, but this banh mi had cilantro that was all stem, no leaf. I hate to admit that I have a stem phobia because it's very childish. But I've gotten much better, now I'll eat romaine no problem when ten years ago I'd nibble around the ribs. I'm a low maintenance eater, I swear, but there's something unsettling about biting into a wad of stems, not severing them neatly with your incisors, and then pulling the thin green stalks out of the sandwich with your mouth as you start to put the sandwich down.

Despite all my nitpicking, So1 still makes one of the better banh mis in Manhattan. If only the much revered banh mi would start popping up in midtown, all my problems would be solved. But you know they'd cost $7 and somehow manage to be pressed like a panini. (3/18/06)

Saigon Banh Mi So 1 * 369 Broome St., New York, NY

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