The idea of banh mi is simple: bread, protein, pickled vegetables, pate and a few sprigs of coriander. The Vietnamese-style sandwich has been popular in Brisbane for years now – every suburb has its favourite. So what’s the difference between a good banh mi and a bad banh mi?
Ashleigh Ng reckons it’s all in the bread. In January Ng opened Banh Mi Now on Adelaide Street, a hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop dedicated to on-the-go lunches for city slickers. Ng realised early on that the tenancy would be too small to bake bread in-house, so she tried and tested 14 bakeries across greater Brisbane. The challenge was to find the lightest bread, fresh with a soft crunch. She eventually settled on Biota Hot Bread in Inala.
“We had a few people asking if we can put the bread on retail,” she says, smiling. “Probably not. My [Volkswagen] Golf is quite small and I can only fit about 400 rolls in there.”
Ng took control of her first venture, Albion French-Vietnamese cafe Arlette’s Kitchen, in 2017. The plan was never to settle with the one space.
“I’m a bit funny in my life,” Ng says. “I don’t have plans but I have some sort of dreams. I have a list of what I want to achieve, … [one] was opening a cafe in the city and [a second was] opening a Vietnamese cafe so I’m slowly working along my list and trying to tick it all off.”
Ng was born in Haiphong, in Vietnam’s north, and Banh Mi Now reflects what she says is that region’s lighter style of cuisine. The pate contains more gelatine and uses cardamom instead of sugar, giving it a milder taste. It features on the three pork options available. Most popular is the crackling pork – a favourite brought over from Arlette’s Kitchen, the meat is sliced to order and drizzled with chilli and caramel sauce. You can also try grilled pork (with garlic, honey, soy and five spice), classic pork (served cold with pork terrine), or a buddha roll made with vegan soy protein and named after Vietnamese monks who don’t eat meat or garlic.
Ng prides Banh Mi Now on a quick and easy meal for customers; it usually takes three minutes from a customer’s order to their first bite. “If you’re in the CBD and you want to have affordable lunches … we’re offering something quick and fresh,” she says. “Everyone loves a banh mi.”
Banh Mi Now
168 Adelaide Street, Brisbane
Mon to Fri 10am–4pm
This story was originally published on January 22.