There's a good chance you've heard about the little sandwich shop beneath the giant milk bottle on Classen Boulevard, just north of NW 23. You might've heard they make a mean sandwich for real cheap, but you just haven't made it by. The stories are true, and it's time to make a trip to the Asian District. The sandwich is called banh mi, pronounced "bun me," and it's a collision of French and Vietnamese cuisine. The name of the shop in the old triangle building beneath the Braum's milk bottle is Saigon Baguette or Banh Mi Ba Le — depends on your primary language. While it's an unusual place with fantastic sandwiches, it's not the only place in town you can get them. That said, Nhung Ngoc Nguyen, who answers to Mona, is in her 10th year providing people from here to Arkansas with this authentic Vietnamese staple. The price: $1.85 (two bucks with tax). That's the price they were when she opened in 1999, and that's what they cost now. Her daughter, Nhu Nguyen, nicknamed the Iron Chef, helps cook egg rolls made daily and prepare shrimp rolls that usually disappear shortly after the noon hour, as well as banh mi. The sandwich itself is a product of French Indochina, which started shortly after the American Civil War and ended with World War II. Though Vietnam ridded itself of the French, their tasty country-style sandwiches remained — a baguette stuffed with pate and mayonnaise, with a few local additions. Pickled carrots and daikon, usually cut into matchsticks, cilantro sprigs, sliced chiles and then pate was either replaced or combined with more customary meats such as pork and chicken. Saigon Baguette features six versions, including one with the traditional pate. But don't think deviled ham; the pate is more akin to thin-sliced bologna. Other fillings include chicken and pork either barbecued, sliced, grilled or in meatball form. Not on the menu but available is an all-vegetable version. Around the corner at Super Cao Nguyen Market, banh mi is available at the deli. You can order one, shop, pay at the register and pick up your sandwich on the way out. The market also sells all the ingredients needed to make your own, including a homemade mayonnaise. Saigon Baguette and Super Cao Nguyen Market still are indebted to the French, literally. Saigon Baguette has bread delivered daily from the Buthion brother's La Baguette Bakery. Super Cao Nguyen bakes its own bread daily, but the dough is provided by La Baguette. One thing neither place offers is an abundance of seating. At Saigon Baguette, the front door is about three paces from the elevated register. On one side are four metal folding chairs; on the other are coolers full of ingredients, Asian and local soda pop and a chip rack. If you want to dine in, venture north on Classen to Lee's Sandwiches, an international banh mi chain based in Northern California. Lee's has its own bakery, much of which is visible to diners. Lee's also has a full-scale deli and an array of spring, egg and shrimp rolls. Lee's and Saigon Baguette have an aversion to credit cards; Lee's does have an ATM in the store. At Super Cao Nguyen, you can pay by credit card at the grocery checkout or by cash at the deli. Banh mi is fusion at its finest. It's proof that cultures clashing can be a good thing.
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