Vietnamese pork rolls are a thing of legend in Australia.
Known as banh mi, these rolls were traditionally available in pan-Asian areas like Chinatown, Ashfield, and Liverpool. The “trendier” foodie areas of Sydney have dug their claws into the craze, with banh mi sightings in Newtown and Marrickville.
Banh mi means “bread” in Vietnamese, but in Australia, the term colloquially refers to pork rolls, or any other bread rolls with generous fillings sold by Vietnamese bakers.
Aside from being fresh and delicious, the other attractive point to these rolls is their price.
In Sydney, where you can expect to pay $10+ for a good sandwich (I know, North Americans, it’s an outrage!) banh mi could cost you as little as a few dollars. When I worked in Ashfield, the Vietnamese baker on Liverpool Street sold fresh-baked pork roll baguettes, overflowing with lettuce and carrot and chilli for $2.50.
On moving to Toronto, I found that the banh mi craze had also swept Canada. I could count at least 6 or 7 banh mi stores downtown. When Banh Mi Boys did a refurb of their place in the Fashion District, I figured there would be little to no options for vegans or vegetarians.
Not so! Tofu aplenty on the menu! Could it be, possibly, maybe, that North Nomad and I could enjoy a meal out together at the same place, without either of us having to compromise and go hungry?
We planned our banh mi excursion for a day when the never-ending Winter of 2013/2014 gave us a reprieve. We met in the sunshine on the corner of Spadina and Queen, ready for our banh mi adventure.
Banh Mi Boys is Asian fusion cuisine. It’s plugged as a Vietnamese roll casual dining spot, but there’s definite pan-Asian and North American influences to the menu.
Being Vietnamese inspired, the prime offerings are the crispy baguettes common to Vietnamese and French cooking. There’s a diverse range available: grilled pork, grilled chicken, lemongrass tofu, braised beef cheek, five spice pork belly, meatball, pulled pork, kalbi beef, squid, and duck confit. I suggest the Kalbi Beef to North Nomad, but he chooses the safe option – grilled chicken.
I adore lemongrass, and aromatic tofu and crunchy bread is tempting. But I have my eye on the steamed baos (a modern take on Chinese and Malaysian steamed buns). I choose the panko tofu, without the mayonnaise or kimchi. For the meat-eaters in the audience, the steamed baos also come in the pork belly, the beef cheek, the pulled pork, or with fried chicken.
And if I had a second stomach, I would have also bought a tofu taco. But I needed to save space for the unique looking sides.
The sides sound traditionally North American, with some crazy pan-Asian twists. I wanted some kimchi (Korean fermented cabbage) fries, but the girl at the counter advised it was made with animal stock. Instead, I ordered the tofu fries.
The steamed bao was Ah-MAZING. I wish I’d ordered ten. The softness of the bun against the crispiness of the panko with the soft silken tofu inside is just divine. I could eat these for lunch every day.
The hot sauce and tofu do make the fries a little soggy, but I enjoyed the texture of the tofu and the flavour of the scallions and hot sauce on the fries. Overall, it’s a nice and unique combination.
I’m eager to hear whether North Nomad enjoys his meal – will this be one of the few successful occasions where we’ve found a place we can enjoy?
He tells me his grilled chicken banh mi is very good. The baguette is packed with carrot, scallions, carrots and topped at the counter with hot sauce. North Nomad only pulls out a few errant cucumbers (he’s not a fan of them).
I’m impressed with their variety, and their vegetarian options. The modifications to make them vegan are really easy.
All in all, a successful meal out for both the Nomads!
Cost: Grilled chicken banh mi $5.99, panko tofu steamed bao $3.49, and tofu fries $5.99.
Location: 392 Queen St West, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Getting There: Catch the streetcar to the corner of Queen & Spadina. Or you can catch the subway to University and walk up to Spadina.
You can connect with South Nomad, Jessica, over at Google+.