As much as we think any form of cuisine that insists on labeling itself ‘fusion’ ought to be fused with oncoming traffic, there’s no denying that the influence of French colonial occupation of the southeast Asian peninsula left an indelible mark of the local tastes – dare we say creating one of the first and indeed most prolific so-called fusion cuisines.
Perhaps the single greatest relic of French gastronomic oppression is the banh mi sandwich. Fresh coriander and butter, crusty bread and pickled radish, fish sauce
and white wine – how could we live without you?
Although modern versions abound, stuffing all manner of meat or meal within a cracked mini- baguette, the classic combination of pâté, luncheon meat, pickled radish, carrot, cucumber, fresh coriander and sliced raw chillies remains one of our favourites. And Xingfucun sandwich shack Rollbox churns out one of Beijing’s best for only 25RMB a pop.
Golden-crusted and airy banh mi bread (the term we casually toss around for the sammie actually refers to the wheaten loaf itself) are piled high with pork liver pâté, slices of pork-shank white ham, pickled radish – all made in-house – and topped with grated carrot, cucumber and a good handful
of zesty green coriander leaves. The thin-crusted Vietnamese riff on the classic French loaf yields much more easily than the continental original, and thank goodness as the epic proportions of meat and veg would make getting through a chewy baguette almost impossible.
Delivering a bold richness from the pâté and ham, and a sharp, numbing heat from the fresh chilli, this is one sandwich we could eat everyday – although we wouldn’t have to as the beef satay (30RMB), tuna (22RMB) and chicken (22RMB) versions are equally tempting. Washed down with a strong tall black coffee (20RMB) or sweet honey and pomelo tea (12RMB), it’s a spectrum of flavours we wish were easier to come by around town. Thankfully, Rollbox delivers.
By Nick Gollner