When a group of my friends came together last summer to plan a bridal shower for me, they knew two things: 1) I'm not one for cutesy, girly themes and 2) I love sandwiches. My favorite part of the chic, theme-free party they created was a build-your-own bánh mì bar, a Vietnamese-inspired twist on the usual sandwich platter.A bánh mì buffet isn't radically different from the usual sandwich set-up, but I asked my friends for some tips on sourcing and making the components.
• The bread: The traditional bánh mì baguette is made with a mix of rice flour and wheat flour, which gives it a light texture and crisp crust. If there is a Vietnamese bakery in your area, it is worth seeking out the loaves for their special texture, or try a local Vietnamese restaurant — my friends contacted a local restaurant and were able to buy bread in bulk. Otherwise, any soft baguette-type loaf will work, as long as the crust isn't too thick and chewy.
• The protein: Our spread included braised beef brisket, bought from the same restaurant that supplied the bread, as well as my friend Lydia's Asian-style spin on her mother-in-law's very Southern pickled shrimp recipe (linked below). Slow-cooked pork is another good make-ahead meat option, as is Bon Appetit's hoisin-glazed meatloaf. If you want to provide a non-meat option, try Emily's recipe for bánh mì with lemongrass tofu.
• The vegetables: Pickled daikon radish and carrots are traditional bánh mì accompaniments, but my friends simplified things slightly by skipping the pickling part, just cutting carrots and cucumbers into long matchsticks. A big bowl of sesame-red cabbage slaw was a crunchy side, or another garnish to be piled onto the sandwiches. And don't forget the cilantro!
• The condiments: Doctoring up store-bought mayonnaise is an easy way to add an extra layer of flavor to sandwiches. We had a roasted garlic version and a spicy Sriracha version, but there is a lot of room to play around with herbs, sauces and other flavorings to create a one-of-a-kind spread.
The brunch also included spicy Bloody Marys and store-bought shrimp chips, which echoed the flavors of the bánh mì buffet. It was such a tasty and inventive party, memorable for more than the sandwiches, of course — but dang, those sandwiches were good.
• Get the shrimp recipe: Lemongrass Pickled Shrimp at Apples & Onions
Do you have any other ideas for sandwich buffets that go beyond the usual?
(Images: Beth Liebetrau; Apples & Onions)