Sometimes one craving begets a fiercer, more trenchant second craving. For instance: earlier this month, I ordered a banh mi from a Vietnamese deli up the road. The sandwich was delicious, but too small, and so for the rest of the week all I could think about was a second banh mi – one filling enough to sate me.
The best banh mi I ever had were in Southern California; there, the sandwiches (which arose out of a fusion of French and Vietnamese cuisines) were made with oven-fresh baguettes at all hours, always light and hot and crisp. It is hard to live up to the ideal I hold in my head, but this interpretation is close enough to do the job. Made with both grilled pork and pâté (head cheese is a common fixture of traditional banh mi), it features quick-pickled carrots and daikons, slices of cucumber and jalapeño, and fresh coriander. Each bite is at once meaty and spicy, crunchy and zesty, chewy and tender.
Founded in Swartland, South Africa in 2008, Testalonga is one of the country’s most ambitious and boundary-pushing wineries. Its Baby Bandito line (whose recognisable labels have become a fixture on natural wine shop shelves) is a good place to start, and Stay Brave – 100% Chenin Blanc, macerated for 11 days and aged in oak foudres – is a pleasing introduction to skin-contact, or orange, wine.
Orange might not quite be the operative word here, however. This wine is closer to a tawny amber, and its zingy flavour profile veers between flowers and peaches and citrus and spice. It punches well above its 10.5% ABV; it’s not merely crushable. I like what the banh mi does to the wine. Because its pickles are so piquant and acidic, and the fish sauce in the marinade and the daikon impart a nose-crinkling pungency, they mollify the wine’s sharper edges. It becomes a little less tongue-prickling, and its own mellow sweetness becomes more pronounced. Chenin Blanc is a grape that is often described as tasting like honey, and the marinade – made with a good drizzle of honey – draws out that winsome side of its personality.
Grilled Pork Banh Mi Sandwiches
For the pork and marinade:
600g pork tenderloin
3 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2 spring onions (white and light green parts only), roughly chopped
2 stalks lemongrass (thick outer layers removed), roughly chopped
Small handful coriander, stems included
Juice and zest of 1 lime
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 ½ tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (preferably white)
For the pickled vegetables:
1 large carrot, peeled 1 equivalent-sized daikon, peeled
180ml rice vinegar
80ml warm water
¾ tablespoon fine sea salt
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
For the sandwiches:
2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 mini baguettes
Pork pâté (optional, but recommended)
½ cucumber, thinly sliced
2 jalapeños, thinly sliced (deseeded, if preferred)
Large handful coriander
1. Prep the pork several hours before you plan to eat. Using a very sharp knife, slice the tenderloin into thin (approximately ¼-inch-thick) sheets (if your tenderloin is very long, halve it length-wise first). Place in a large, non-reactive bowl.
2. Add all of the remaining marinade ingredients to a food processor or blender. Blend on high for several minutes, until mostly uniform. Pour the marinade over the pork, and flip the pieces to ensure they are all evenly covered. Cover and chill for 2–4 hours.
3. Meanwhile, prepare the pickled vegetables. Using a box grater (or food processor), grate the carrot and daikon and add to a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, add the remaining pickling ingredients and whisk until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Pour over the grated vegetables and stir to mix. Cover and chill.
4. Once the pork has finished marinating, remove it from the fridge. Place a large, non-stick frying pan over high heat, and add the vegetable oil. Once very hot, add the pork – allowing excess marinade to drip off each piece – in a single layer (you will likely need to cook the pork in 2 or 3 batches). Cook for approximately 3-4 minutes, turning frequently, until the pieces are golden-brown and cooked through. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining pork.
5. Shortly before serving, halve the baguettes with a bread knife and place cut side up on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place under the grill and toast on high heat for 2-3 minutes, or until just turning golden and crisp. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a minute or two.
6. To construct the sandwiches, divide the halved baguettes between four plates. Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise over the top half of each baguette, and a layer of pâté (if using) on the bottom half. Cover the pâté with a single layer of cucumber slices and a few jalapeño pieces. Divide the pork between all four sandwiches and place the slices on top of the cucumbers.
7. Remove the pickled vegetables from the fridge. Top the pork with a thin layer of the vegetables (drain extra liquid before using) and finish with the coriander. Put the baguette halves together and eat the sandwiches while still warm
Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer. Our first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table, is out now and available via our online shop and hopefully at your favourite booksellers. Pick up a bottle of Testalonga Baby Bandito Stay Brave here, and to sign up for our Natural Wine Killers natural wine subscription box, head here.