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Saturday, October 18, 2003

Saigon Sandwich Restaurant

Like some other recent food trends (nouvelle cuisine comes to mind) fusion has gotten a bad rap. On the surface, the idea of combining two cuisines to come up with something new sounds positively dreadful. Does anyone really want Chinese-Italian food? Current food trends in vogue are more about a pure and simple respect for high quality ingredients and authenticity than new-fangled mish mash. Does anyone remember the wraps fad? Yet there are some great examples of classic fusion cooking out there. Tex-Mex is fusion. Hawaiian food is often a fusion of Pacific Islander ingredients with Chinese, Japanese, Pilipino and Korean recipes.

Yesterday Lee and I finally tried Saigon Sandwich on Larkin Street in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco. I had read about it for some time, so I won't claim that I "discovered" it by any means. A storefront shop with room for just two women working furiously behind the counter, the place offers only about five items on the menu--a barbequed chicken sandwich, a roast pork sandwich, a meatball sandwich, a liverwurst sandwich and some kind of a combo plate I think. It also features cars double parked and a line out the door at lunch time.

Vietnamese sandwiches (or banh mi) are a perfect example of fusion, in my mind. The bread used is a classic Vietnamese type of baguette, crunchy thin crust on the outside and soft on the inside, dressed with a nuoc cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce) spiked mayonnaise. But then piled high are warm thin slices of melt-in-your-mouth sweet and slightly smoky roast pork (similar to a Chinese cha siu, roast pork) on top of that are lightly pickled slivered carrots, fresh cilantro and optional crunchy slices of jalapeno pepper. While I have yet to try the other versions, the roast pork has got to be one of the best sandwiches I've ever eaten. To top it off, Saigon Sandwiches charges a whopping $2 for each of the sandwiches with the exception of the bbq chicken which is $2.25. Proof positive that politics aside, the French influence on Vietnamese cuisine was a very good thing.

Saigon Sandwich is a tiny storefront that offers no seating; take out only. Located at 560 Larkin St. at Eddy and you can call ahead to order your sandwich 415-474-5698