Battle: Bánh mì
On the right: Fid Resto’s backdoor banh mi.
Two sandwiches, one neighbourhood. Can we handle it? Can both survive? SHOULD both survive? I mean, imagine having two options for one niche food item in this city, let alone within two or three blocks of one another. That is just not the Halifax we live in, you guys. Will we stand for this? I don’t think so. So which one is the best and which one should we chase out of town with pitchforks and torches?
The Fid banh mi has been a pretty high profile sandwich this summer, showing up at lots of outdoor events and casting a long shadow on local Twitter feeds with a daily reminder that sandwiches and pad thai are available at the backdoor of the restaurant for lunch takeaway. This banh mi also gives you the opportunity to stand next to a dumpster while you wait for your food, which is a little bit of razzle dazzle that I feel I’ve really been missing from my previous restaurant experiences.
Indochine has been around for a few years now, building up a coveted billion star Yelp rating which they can’t stop talking about, and offering up consistently good food. They also offer convenience that goes beyond the everyday in-house and takeout experience people have expected of it: they deliver. Which means I can eat beside my own dumpster if I want. The world is basically my oyster.
This weekend I decided to get one of each and see if there was a neighbourhood banh mi that I would pledge allegiance to. Since I had a lot of serious sandwich thoughts as I ate these, I’m going to break this down into an anatomy of a sandwich.
Bread: Fid wins this by a mile. Their bread is infinitely better than the baguette used at Indochine. The Fid bread is soft—almost moist, which I will also attribute to walking home with it while it was wrapped in tin foil—with a nice, toothsome chew. The bread at Indochine is a blander baguette, a little too dense and bready for my taste. Neither is as airy or has as crisp a crust development as I’d ideally want, but I really do like the experience of eating the Fid baguette.
Meat: Fid gains a few more miles with their meat. Thick slices of juicy pork belly make this sandwich substantial and filling, rich and delicious. The pork at Indochine is fine, but nothing special. It also, sadly, verges on dry. It makes me not care about the meat in the sandwich, which is never a good thing. You should always care about the meat! Meat is great!
Veggies: This is where Indochine nails it. There is a huge pile of pickled carrot and daikon crammed into the bun, and thicker slices of cucumber add freshness to the core of the sandwich. Their sandwich has a brightness to it that eludes the other. There couldn’t have been more than two tablespoons of shredded carrot and daikon on the Fid sandwich: it was kind of a bummer. I love daikon.
Cilantro: one of the main reasons I want to eat a banh mi is to basically mainline cilantro. So Fid is, again, a disappointment with the incredibly sparse green notes in their sandwich. Indochine, meanwhile, tops their sandwich with a healthy, fluffy handful of stems. Enough that I can remove some and add them to the Fid sandwich. (Oh, snap.)
Heat: I asked for extra chili peppers at Fid, and there was barely a hint of heat on the sandwich. When I opened up the bun I couldn’t spot a single chili on the sub. I almost cried, you guys. I forgot to ask for extra at Indochine, but that didn’t matter so much. There was a pretty nice sprinkling of sliced chilies there anyway. It wasn’t an overly spicy sandwich, but every couple of bites I would get a nice, fiery tap on my tongue.
Condiments: The peanut sauce at Fid is quite delicious, but there was barely any on my sandwich: the pork belly was by far the dominant flavour. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, the sandwich has a less exciting flavour profile since all the adornments are applied with such a light touch. I will say that the citrus mayo that Indochine adds to their sub underscores the fresh flavour of the veggies, and it’s great that it’s housemade. Ultimately I could take it or leave it, though. At the end of the day, I’d rather have pate. Oh well.
Price: The Fid banh mi is $8 for a full sandwich, and you can buy half portions. The Indochine sandwich—which is a bigger serving than the full Fid sub—comes in at just over $7. (Both prices are before tip.)
So what’s the best sandwich?
They are both good, but neither is unabashedly great. It’s actually kind of crazy to me that these two have such completely opposite strengths: if you took the best parts of the two sandwiches and combined them, you would have a seriously amazing sandwich. On their own, though, neither makes me crave a second. As it stands, I would probably just pick my banh mi based on the block I was walking down when I decided I wanted one.
Here’s the thing, though. At the end of this battle there is no casualty, but there is still a clear winner: Halifax. Because the best thing about these two banh mi sandwiches is the fact that there actually are two banh mi options around Spring Garden Road. That, my friends, is what is really delicious.