Finding good vegan lunch around our office in Chinatown has not been particularly difficult for Erin and me in our month-long Vegan Experience. Great vegan sandwiches, on the other hand, is a little more difficult. We were thrilled to find out that all three of the banh mí shops within walking distance offer vegan filling options—that'd be Banh Mí Saigon, Paris Sandwich, and Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich—but that thrill quickly disappeared when we were disappointed by all three.
Bland fillings, strangely textured mock-meats, and meager portion sizes left us wanting something a bit more substantial in the flavor department.
So of course, we did what any Serious Eater would do: a hack job.
No, not that kind of hack job, silly. I'm talking the kind where we take one delicious thing and shove it into another delicious thing and call it lunch. We have a nice, long history with such practices, and they generally lead to delicious results.
On the menu today? Oh, how about a banh mi sandwich minus the meat and mayo (any shop will sell you the baguette with pickled daikon/carrots, cucumber, jalapeño, and cilantro for a few bucks), stuffed with some of the tasty vegetarian/vegan offerings from 212 Grand Food Corp?
My personal favorite is a combination of their fried tofu puffs along with their compressed tofu nuggets in a spicy chili sauce (they have a whole display of various and sundry tofu nuggets in their display—enough that we should perhaps do a full taste test some day), though now that I've seen Max's recent post about their tasty-looking greens, I may have to give that a go as well. Greens in sandwiches is always a good thing. A couple bucks buys more than enough of each of these for a sandwich.
As for your sandwich shell, Banh Mi Saigon usually has better bread than the other shops, and you get a tomato as part of the vegan menu item.
The best part of this particular hack? Not only is it better than anything you can get straight up from the sandwich shops, it's cheaper too! How's that for a tasty lunch?
212 Grand Food Corp (Kong Kee)
Banh Mi Saigon
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.