Do you know what dumb thing I love and have always loved? Supermarket deli sandwiches. Especially ones that depart from the norm. I'll sometimes smugly brag about not eating fast food, but grab-and-go sandwiches are 100% my fast food.
This all started at Seattle's Ken's Market in Greenwood in the '80s, where you could get a big, gnarly, chewy bagel—before bagels were commonplace around here—with two inches of cream cheese and a thin, briny slice of ham or turkey draped over the cheese like a doily. They still sell these. I could barely get my 8-year-old jaws around it. Chubby little me was in heaven, unaware of real bagels.
Today, Ken's has evolved beyond cold bagels and is pretty much the local readymade sando grandaddy. You may think of a supermarket sandwich as being in league with a gas station sandwich, and that's fair, but the quality at Ken's is just through the roof, so much that these sams are almost restaurant-grade. I'm thinking of the hot brisket on a bun while I type this.
When the subject comes up, people always lyricize over Ken's turkey deluxe on rosemary bread—which, look, is a lovely sandwich. But that's old news, and you know what? There's a better one.
It's labeled "Chinese Pork Banh Mi" and it's... mostly recognizable as a bánh mì. The baguette, while very fine, isn't the traditional airy Vietnamese baguette made from wheat and rice flour—not as crackly, has more pull. It's got cold char siu/xá xíu on it, the kind you dip in hot mustard, which isn't unheard of on a bánh mì, although it's usually served warm. It's got pickled carrots/daikon and fresh cilantro. Cucumber and jalapeño are absent. There's garlicky aioli instead of plain mayo, and starring in lieu of pâté is its understudy, mortadella. (But good mortadella. Not baloney mortadella.)
Last week, Suzette Smith in the Portland Mercury rightly called the bánh mì "a versatile sandwich," so this probably counts as one? If not, let's call it a cover of a bánh mì. Or, oppositely, let's imagine it has nothing to do with bánh mìs and exists independently of them in a sandwich vacuum, where it doesn't know it has a sign on it or what a bánh mì is. Okay.
The point is: It's fucking good, you guys. This supermarket sandwich. Whatever it is. The pork is rich without being unctuous or gristly. The mortadella's buttery. The pickled veg is spot-on, bright and crisp, and cuts the meat fat. The garlic aioli adds a fresh li’l punch. The wrong, very good bread is very good. I kinda wanted to disdain it on principle, but this one's a barn burner, folks.
If pork isn't for you, Ken's Market has dozens of other dreamy, lovingly crafted, often innovative sandwiches on good bread for about eight bucks and frequently less—including a handful of veggie/vegan options! That you can just take and buy and then, like, have! Immediately. At least as quickly as Burger King. Why do that when there's this?
Know a hot sub? Tell us about it @ firstname.lastname@example.org.