Portlanders loooove to talk about bánh mì, the Franco-Vietnamese wonder that is perhaps the world’s perfect sandwich (meat, pickled carrot and daikon, fresh sprigs of cilantro, and possibly some Japanese-style mayonnaise, all packed into a traditional French baguette). The second most popular conversation topic, after what should or should not go in one and in what ratios, is how much one should cost. Depending largely on the neighborhood, bánh mì can cost anywhere from $2.50 (which is increasingly rare) to $8. Our goal: To make one that’s both comparable to what you’d find in the best shops and that fits our lunch budget of 50 cents or less.
The first hurdle was the meat. There are bánh mì made with tofu, but they’re rather bland, as can be the chicken ones. However, pork was a bit too expensive, so we decided to model the filling after the bánh mì at Momofuku Ssam Bar and use pâté only. Not only does it provide the most flavor for the least amount of money, but it can be frozen for months in individual servings and is easily defrosted.
The second hurdle was the sauces—traditional bánh mì use Japanese-style mayonnaise and a sprinkle of Maggi seasoning, but these proved too expensive for what they added, even if we made them ourselves, so we left them out.
The amounts below are kind of scattershot given the difference in volume, but so long as you have a few baguettes and two bunches of cilantro, you should be able to make 8 sandwiches right away.
• I already make them on a regular basis anyway, so we just cut them in quarters, sliced them horizontally, and froze them in individually wrapped portions. To reheat, just toast in the oven or defrost in the microwave.
TOTAL: 33 cents/4 = 8 cents/serving
Pork-and-chicken liver terrine, from the Momofuku cookbook:
• 1 1/2 lbs. chicken livers, rinsed, with any large veins removed: $2.72
• 1/4 cup peeled garlic cloves: 7 cents
• 2 medium shallots, peeled: 5 cents
• 1 1/2 lbs. ground pork: $3.32
• 1 1/2 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder: 2 cents
• 2 T fish sauce: 6 cents
• 1 T plus 1 tsp sugar: 6 cents
• 1 T plus 1 tsp kosher salt: 1 cent
TOTAL: $6.31/25 = 25 cents/serving
It doesn’t look great, but the chicken livers give a great background funkiness to the pork, and the five-spice powder complements the carrot and daikon surprisingly well.
Preheat oven to 275 F.
Add the shallots and garlic cloves to a food processor and process until finely chopped. Remove to a medium bowl. Add the chicken livers to the food processor and process until roughly but evenly chopped. Remove to the same bowl. Add the pork, sugar, salt, 5-spice, and fish sauce and mix to combine. Pack into a loaf pan and set the loaf pan in a roasting pan full of water, high enough to reach the lip of the loaf pan.
Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the middle of the terrine reads 145 degrees. Let cool to room temperature, then chill in the fridge for an hour or overnight to firm. It will be on the crumbly side for a terrine; either use right out of the pan or freeze in smaller containers.
Pickled carrots and daikon:
• 1 lb. daikon, peeled: $1.75
• 2 medium carrots, peeled: 6 cents
• 1 1/4 cups distilled white vinegar: 10 cents
• 1 tsp salt: 1 cent
• 1/2 cup plus 2 tsp sugar: 50 cents
TOTAL: $2.42/12 = 8 cents/serving
Cut the carrots and daikon into long matchsticks, put them in a bowl.
Sprinkle with the 2 tsp sugar and salt and knead for about 3 minutes to soften and squeeze out the water. (They should be reduced about 1/4 in volume by the time you’re done.) Drain and rinse in a colander. Transfer to a 1-quart jar. In the bowl, combine the vinegar and sugar and 1 cup lukewarm water, stir to dissolve. Pour into the jar. If the brine doesn’t cover the carrot and daikon, top it off with more water. Put in the fridge for at least an hour; it keeps for up to 4 weeks, refrigerated.
• 49 cents a bunch, about 1/6 bunch per sandwich at most: 8 cents/serving
To prolong the life of cilantro, treat it like cut flowers: Cut off the bottoms of the stems, put the sprigs in a cup of water, and cover the whole thing loosely with a plastic produce bag. It should last a couple weeks or more, depending on how fresh it was when you bought it.
GRAND TOTAL: .08 + .25 + .08 + .08 = 49 cents each
To assemble the sandwich, spread a couple tablespoons of pâté on the baguette. Top with a small handful of carrots and daikon, then a small handful of cilantro leaves.