Bahn mi is a Vietnamese sandwich on a baguette, a fusion born of France's colonization of Vietnam in the nineteenth century. So, when I get my bahn mi from KP's in Silver Lake, which calls itself a Vietnamese-American deli, am I really getting a Vietnamese-French-American sandwich?
Maybe, but I don't really care. It was really good. I have a little personal dilemma when it comes to exploring ethnic foods in my city. I try not to eat too much meat for various reasons, but I also want to get the thing you have to get from these eating experiences, which, often is jambon or bulgogi, or tacos al pastor. But, there I was in Silver Lake, and it actually said 'American' in the name of the spot, so, in the spirit of fusion, I went veggie.
Everything about the experience was good. It's a tiny storefront in a semi-stripmallish spot, but the patio tables and smiling face behind the counter make it immediately friendly. There is a shelf stocked with Vietnamese pantry staples and specialties, a tray of sample shrimp chips, and a few cookbooks for perusing -- including one written last year by a new friend, The Little Saigon Cookbook. I passed over the traditional 'Kold Kut' combo of pate, pork, and jambon for the vegetarian bahn mi. As he made my sandwich to order, the man behind the counter filled the time with friendly chatter.
Now then, the sandwich and its tri-racial heritage. What's Vietnamese about it? A lightly sweet mixture of pickled carrots and daikon radish gives it refreshing crunch and moisture. Sliced cucumbers are layered atop a mixture of mayonnaise and Maggi seasoning (which, we learn, is actually Swiss! Add that to the mix!). What's French about it? The bread: a perfectly fresh baguette -- on the fatter side, sprinkled with sesame seeds -- really made the sandwich.
And what's American about it? Well, the deli-sliced tofu was slightly sweet, and actually felt meaty and satisfying. But the most American thing about KP's bahn mi was its gargantuan size. He placed the sandwich on a tray, swaddled like a baby in white butcher paper, and I was really shocked at how big it was. (This is actually important to note. In the bahn mi joints in Rosemead that don't have 'American' in their names, sandwiches run around three dollars. At KP's they're closer to six dollars, but they are much, much bigger.) I ate one half, and took home the rest for the next day's lunch. Next morning, I proceeded to spend the second half of my yoga class in zen-like meditation on the sandwich that awaited me at home -- which, somehow seems okay to me.