Pork—be it pâté, Vietnamese ham, or crumbly char siu—are all integral players in the showstopping symphony of flavors and textures that is the banh mi. The Vietnamese sandwich, with its cool mix of pickled vegetables, pork product, umami rich Kewpie mayo, and chili heat is one of my favorites. In Italy porchetta, another porkcentric creation, is a popular street food.
One of my favorite New York City spots, Porchett,a is devoted to the dish, served as a platter or in a sandwich. I like to stop by the tiny East Village store just to catch a few whiffs of the aroma of pork fat and fennel pollen while ogling the burnished cylinders of meat with their crackling skin and leave without ordering a thing. A while ago I stopped in to do just that and noticed a sign: “Porchetta Banh Mi $10,” and, despite the fact that I’d just eaten, had to order one.
It was only a matter of time before the East Village’s Italian pork sandwich collided with the Southeast Asian street food favorite. The result is surely New York City’s only Italianate banh mi. Consisting only of porchetta, pickled carrot and daikon, cilantro, jalapeno, red onion, and a smear of Kewpie it’s one of the more minimalist banh mis around.
When I grabbed the banh mi from the counter I was tempted to sprinkle on some fennel pollen, but ultimately left well enough alone. Two bites in I realized what it needed, more crackling! With the addition of even more crunchy bits this Italian-French-Vietnamese mashup rose to new heights of flavor and texture.
As I bit into the second half I noticed a surprise that brightened my lunch even more, a teeny lavender colored fennel blossom. I took it as a sign that spring is just around the corner.
Porchetta, 110 E 7th St., 212-777-2151