On my first visit to Vietnam I did what comes naturally to me – I bought the Lonely Planet guide and researched food like there was no tomorrow. And as soon as I saw the picture of the Saigon roll in my Lonely Planet guide, I knew I had to find one. A couple of issues there, starting with the folly of trying to locate food places in a very ‘dynamic’ country using a print version of a book that was four years out of date. Unfazed, I researched the best place in Ho Chi Minh to find the best Saigon roll and it happened to be a little stand located on a little street, which in spite of my best pre-breakfast efforts (and the herculean stamina and patience of my travelling companion) I could not locate. I needn’t have worried as pretty much every Saigon roll in Vietnam is wonderful (and I had a few!).
I am a convert. I could eat these everyday. I do believe that it is the best sandwich ever. What makes a good Saigon pork roll? It’s the bread. It has to be crisp on the outside, but not thick and crusty. Just enough to give a light crunch and to stay crunchy the whole way through to the last bite. The middle soft and pillowy, but not doughy. It should almost feel like it isn’t there. It must have layers of pork, but not too many (and it must be pork!). It’s meant to be light and delicious, not heavy and filling. Then there’s the smear of mayo and pate – again not too much. There has to be pickled carrot and diakon – julienned (not grated) and it must have coriander and chilli. Finally the secret ingredient. I do believe it is a few drops of Magi seasoning…. OK basically that is MSG.
Nowdays, there are a few places in Canberra now that sell really good ones. My favourite is Saigon Fresh in Gungahlin. It’s a bit of a trip (but so worth it!). They are simple, but consistently fresh and good. Sometimes the queue is a bit of a pain, but I take it as a good sign. Always good value and always fresh.
I have recently found a rival in the bakery at Florey shops. These are awesome. The bread roll is much better and they pack in the flavour. A little inconsistent (sometimes too much pepper and too much meat and not enough coriander), but fast becoming my second favourite.
I have also tried Roll’d. I don’t get out much and when I do, there is nothing more crushing than disappointing food. I’ve tried it twice and the pork roll at Roll’d is awful. Nice bread, but overloaded with pork, and my last venture was even more overloaded with soy sauce (or at least I hope it was soy and not Magi seasoning). All I could taste was salt and afterwards my tongue almost felt blistered. It was so heavy and stodgy. The carrot was too fine – looked grated. Not a Bahn mi by any stretch. I kicked myself for not taking it back and complaining, as someone must have been a mistake and they should be mortified to be making such bad food.
I have also tried making my own. I might post the recipe one day (not sure I took photos). A lot of work to make all the elements and so very nice and fresh. But seriously, why make your own when the best are so easy to get and so cheap?!