Vietnamese bakery uses French influence to create tasty sandwiches

Friday, May 04, 2007

The Puerto Ricans have their Jibaritos, the Italians have their subs and the French prefer a ham and cheese. But the French have also influenced the classic Vietnamese sandwich referred to as "Banh Mi". Our Hungry Hound said they are hard to find in Chicago but of course, he has managed to track some down at a brand new bakery.

The French influence on Vietnam's culture is evident, even to this day, in the form of their beloved Banh Mi. The translation simply means "bread" and it is the basis for dozens of the popular sandwiches normally found in Uptown along Argyle Street. They are now being created on a daily basis in Lincoln Square at the tiny Nhu Lan Bakery.

"We learn baking and a lot of things from France and we mix together with Vietnamese ingredients so we make it a very unique bread," said Lee Tran of Nhu Lan Bakery.

The homemade dough is proofed on site, then scored with a knife to give each loaf that trademark split down the middle. Each giant rack holds 450 small loaves and they are placed into giant custom ovens all at once, set onto a track across the top of the oven. Once inside, they bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, constantly spinning on the giant racks to aerate and bake each loaf evenly.

Once the loaves are removed from the giant ovens, they are placed next to the front counter filling the entire bakery with that heady, fresh-baked aroma. The prices are very reasonable as you can get four small loaves for a dollar.

For a little extra money, they will make one of the classic Vietnamese sandwiches, which would be a submarine or a hoagie in any other culture. Beginners should opt for the lemongrass pork or the shredded chicken versions. A little mayonnaise is spread onto the bread, followed by the meat, pickled daikon radish, carrots, a little jalapeno, fresh cilantro, a quick shot of black pepper and finally, a little soy sauce.

More adventuresome palates should try the Nhu Lan Special. In addition to mayo, pork pāté is spread on the bread, then an assortment of house-made lunchmeats, such as head cheese, pork roll and ham. The daikon-carrot pickles, jalapeno, cilantro and soy sauce all stay the same. The combination of the savory ingredients that are all tucked inside the freshly-baked bread is hard to beat.

"We make the outside a little golden and crispy and inside, sharp and tender," said Tran. Nhu Lan also sells homemade spring rolls, pork snacks and other savory items including a wide selection of imported coffee and coconut drinks.

Nhu Lan Bakery
2612 W. Lawrence Avenue

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