I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m an Anthony Bourdain groupie. Ok, there is a little bit of shame so let me clarify. It’s not that I’m into him specifically but the lifestyle he portrays on No Reservations, The Layover, and now Parts Unknown. Traveling, great food, wild nights, and interesting times. I don’t chat about him on fan sites or stalk him at speaking engagements. Hell, I haven’t even liked him on Facebook (I like you Anthony, I just don’t like like you). I’m a follower of his adventures and that’s the lifestyle I want to lead. Eat, Drink, Travel, Repeat.
I realized this as I was perched on a curb, devouring the greatest sandwich of my life. As a lover of all things between two pieces of bread, I had remembered one of his episodes about Bahn Mi. A quick Google search placed me right there on the Bourdain Trail in Hoi An, a sleepy, cobble-stoned village on the central-coast of Vietnam.
Positioned between an alleyway and a shoe store, Bahn Mi Phuong is nothing more than a display case and a small kitchen with a round-plastic table and a few stools (additional seating can be found on the curb). Despite their fame, they’ve been slinging sandwiches out of the same unpretentious location for over 20 years. Behind stacks of crispy baguettes, fresh produce, and mounds of pork, two cooks are working with impressive speed and precision, churning out irresistible sandwiches to the masses.
If Subway has “sandwich artists” then these guys make that “art” look like stick figures sketched by toddlers. With only a few options which I’ll call “The Works” and “The Works with Egg,” I can see how they’ve perfected their craft. There may be more varieties, but I don’t speak Vietnamese and I was too hungry to care. It was 9am and I wanted sandwiches (I’m writing this at 4pm and I REALLY want sandwiches again. Always plural). I pass them 30,000 VND, about $1.50 USD, and watch them split open two huge baguettes, slather them with paté and homemade mayo, lay down a charcuterie of different pork parts, and top that with a pile of thinly julienned cucumber, green mango, carrots, daikon, and a secret sauce rendered from roasted pig. Topped with fresh cilantro and an egg, the two masterpieces slid off the line and straight into my hands.
No chairs, no table, no napkins and I managed to make quite a mess of myself, perched on a curb, with motorbikes streaking by inches from my feet. It wasn’t one of my more refined eating moments (though to be honest, there aren’t many), but I don’t care because these are the greatest sandwiches I’ve ever eaten. My mouth is on fire but I still don’t care because there is another curb around the corner that I can perch on and drink frosty 5000 VND beers. That’s only 25 Cents. Vietnam is heaven.
Now that I think about it, I’m not AS ashamed to call myself a Bourdain groupie. If it results in amazing food in interesting places then I’ll follow him anywhere. So, thanks Tony, I may even “like” you on Facebook someday.