I have a new obsession: the Banh Mi. For those of you who are unfamiliar, it is a Vietnamese sandwich, traditionally made with a baguette and filled with thinly sliced pickled carrots, daikon, cucumbers, cilantro, chili peppers, pâté, mayonnaise and various meat fillings or tofu. There are different options including roasted or grilled pork, steamed or roasted pork belly, Vietnamese sausage, chicken, head cheese and ham.
Despite having read lots about various Banh Mi’s in Boston (people have strong opinions about where the best is), I had yet to try one till last week. I was in Lowell for court and had to come back after lunch. I was starving and I decided that Lowell’s large Vietnamese population would guarantee a good example of the sandwich. I settled on Hong Cuc Sandwich Shop, which is more of an Oriental Grocery with a tiny sandwich making station. There are many choices: chicken, beef, pork, BBQ beef. I went with the classic combo of pork pate and other cold cuts. The sandwich cost a princely sum of $2.50.
The baguette was fantastic; it was so fresh, the crispy exterior shattered on impact. This sandwich is a prime example of “the whole is more than the sum of its parts” adage. The crunchiness from the veggies, the creaminess of the mayo, the porky flavor of the pate and the herbaceousness of the cilantro all worked to together to create a harmony of flavors and textures.
I’m not one to eat the same thing over and over again; I feel like there is so much to experience in life, how would I get to it all if there are repeats? However, three days later, I’m driving from Haverhill to Chelmsford and my mind (and stomach) turned to thoughts of the sandwich. My GPS told me it cost me 6 minutes for a sandwich detour. Was it worth 6 minutes of my time? Hell, yes. 7 minutes later, I was devouring my second Banh Mi in 72 hours and it was just as good. This time I also got 2 spring rolls (2 for $1); they were crispy, but a bit too greasy.
I was back in Lowell court the very next day and I was planned to go back for another. To my dismay, my court date was changed and I left court at 10am. I still debated if 10am was too early for lunch, but reason won out and I left Lowell, a tiny bit sad.
There is no doubt I will return to Hong Cuc, again and again. Next time I will try the BBQ beef sandwich which earns its share of raves. I never thought I would have a reason to look forward to being in Lowell Court.
507 Dutton St
Lowell, MA 01854