The first time I had banh mi—a Vietnamese sandwich stuffed with all sorts of savory and pickled goodness—was in San Francisco a couple of decades ago. Having wandered around the city on foot to the point of exhaustion, I wobbled more than walked into a hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese joint and chose from the picture menu the dish that looked fastest to prepare.
Ten minutes later, I was eating a finger-licking revelation of a sandwich. It has everything: a crusty baguette (for which the sandwich is named—banh mi is the Vietnamese word for “bread”), a mix of spicy and sweet flavors, the satisfying crunch of pickled carrots and daikon, and fried marinated tofu—which, as any tofu devotee knows, is the best kind. (Not into tofu? Substitute your favorite lightly fried protein.) After years of experimenting with different ingredient combinations and tofu preparations, this Franken-recipe is as close as I’ve come to the real deal.
Tofu Banh Mi
1 package extra-firm tofu, drained for at least 30 minutes
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1/2 cup rice vinegar
3 teaspoons agave, honey, or sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 medium carrots, grated or julienne
1 small daikon, grated or julienne
1 small cucumber, thinly sliced lengthwise
4 crusty submarine rolls, or the equivalent amount of baguette, evenly sliced
Mayonnaise (vegan or regular)
Bunch of fresh cilantro
1. In a large shallow pan or bowl, mix the soy sauce and ginger.
2. Slice the drained tofu width-wise into 1/2-inch slabs. Pat the slabs dry with a paper towel. Place the tofu in the soy sauce and allow to marinate for about 30 minutes, 15 minutes per side.
3. In a medium plastic or glass container, mix the vinegar, agave, salt, and red pepper. Stir or shake to combine. Add the carrots, daikon, and cucumber and gently shake again. Allow to marinate for 30 minutes.
4. Heat enough oil to cover the tofu slices in a wok or skillet over medium-high heat. While it’s heating, dredge the tofu slabs in cornstarch, lightly coating each side. When the oil begins to shimmer, use tongs to drop in the tofu slabs. Fry, in batches if needed to maintain some space around each piece, until light golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Remove fried tofu to a paper towel–lined plate to drain.
5. Slice open the rolls. On each side, spread a light coating of mayonnaise and top with sriracha to taste. Add as many tofu slices as needed to cover one side of the bread, then top with marinated cucumber, daikon, and carrots. Sprinkle with cilantro.
Beverage suggestion: Your favorite cold craft brew
Robin Catalano believes in the power of storytelling to connect communities and cultures. She’s applied her creative approach to writing for magazines, books, blogs, websites, and a wide variety of marketing projects, and has published more than 75 articles and 1,000+ blog posts. As an editor, she has worked on more than 350 books for publishers including Penguin Random House, Workman, and Simon & Schuster. She has also served as a book coach for independent authors, helping them take their ideas from concept to print. An avid traveler and travel writer, Robin lives, reads, and writes voraciously in upstate NY.