When I first started going to Viet-Nam Bánh Mì Số 1 the price of a Vietnamese sandwich hadn’t yet risen to $3.95. It was owned by a gent who went by the name Tony. For some reason I got a kick out of going to a Vietnamese deli in Little Italy to buy bánh mì from a guy named Tony. Even though the menu offers 15 varieties of Vietnamese sandwiches, I always go with the house special No. 1. Since I love this sandwich so much I routinely ignore the summer rolls and other treats lining the counter.
The other day I stopped in and ordered a No. 1, only to learn that Tony had sold the business to relatives. As I waited for my sandwich I noticed a bunch of small foil takeout containers. Fresh chili peppers sat atop an eggy pie whose surface had tiny bubbles and was flecked with black pepper. Agog with the excitement of discovery, I asked the new guy what it was. “Have you tried it before?,” he replied. “It smells like fish.” I assured my new friend that I eat everything.
Whenever someone warns me not to try a new food, it usually turns out to be delicious. He told me that it was made with egg, fish, and pork, so I took up the gauntlet, and $6 later I was the proud owner of a Vietnamese mystery quiche known as mam chung. I scarfed down the bánh mì and planned to eat my mam chung later that day. Fifteen minutes later I was in a nearby park, chopsticks in hand. What can I say? I couldn’t wait.
I tasted a bit of the mam chung’s yellow crust. It was more peppery than fishy. Inside was an eggy amalgam of yellow noodles and finely chopped wood ear mushrooms enriched with ground meat and fish. I hadn’t been expecting the noodles, but they served to bind together the pleasantly funky Vietnamese mystery quiche. As I alternated between bites of fiery chili pepper and savory mam chung, I was quite glad that I had ignored the proprietor's advice.
Viet-Nam Bánh Mì Số 1
369 Broome St, New York NY 10013 (btw. Mott and Elizabeth Streets, map)