The Nom Nom Truck and Banh Mi

  • The Nom Nom Truck
  • Banh Mi #1
  • Banh Mi #2

In the blossoming world of gourmet food trucks, the Nom Nom Truck is one of the most famous.  After a great showing on the Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race, the Nom Nom Truck now has a super dedicated, almost obsessive, fan base.

What’s so interesting about the Nom Nom Truck is that they serve banh mi, which are vietnamese sandwiches.  Traditionally, banh mi is made with ingredients that most Americans would cringe at: pâté and headcheese.  And yet, the Nom Nom Truck has a following that defies all cultural logic.  You can get a traditional banh mi from Nom Nom…it’s called “the deli special.”  But the more popular options are the grilled pork (pictured), the lemongrass chicken, or the tofu.  In addition to the meat, each banh mi has cilantro, jalepeños, mayo, a tangy relish of carrots and daikon radish called do chua, and, my favorite, cucumbers.

Banh mi is a great sandwich to look at in terms of culture for two reasons.  First of all, banh mi originates in the French colonialism of Vietnam.  The sandwich demonstrates how the co-mingling of cultures creates new, hybrid ideas.  In banh mi, the French contribution can be seen in the baguette and the pâté, combined with classic Vietnamese ingredients like the daikon radish.  Nn fact, food is one of the best ways to track the movement of culture: by identifying food traits unique to a culture and finding them in other places, you will often find other cultural constructs have moved as well.

Banh mi is also interesting in terms of popular culture.  It seems to have become the new, hip thing in the food world, with fans of all types.  The best way I can illustrate this is through an episode of The Great Food Truck Race.  The trucks found themselves in a small town in the South.  It seemed as though the Nom Nom Truck’s winning streak had come to an end; everyone expected the burger truck to win.  The Nom Nom Truck pulled out a huge victory, even in a place where most of the people had never heard of banh mi.  For whatever reason, this Vietnamese sandwich appeals to everyone.  The New York Times has done an article about banh mi, and in it, lists the top ten banh mi spots in the country (coincidentally, a commenter adds Num Pang to the list).  When the Nom Nom Truck shows up at a gathering of food trucks, a line forms immediately, and the other trucks lose business fast.  Whether it’s the sandwich in and of itself, or the prestige of the Nom Nom Truck or both, right now, banh mi is a force to be reckoned with.

One Comment

  1. Reply
    mmarchie June 15, 2011

    Given that all things Vietnam are my current area of expertise, I thought you might like to know that the "banh mi sandwhich" (banh mi literally translates to "bread" so the name is bit redundant) that is served in Vietnam actually comes from Turkey, and is a relatively new phenomenon in the country (here it is called a Doner Kebab). I had stumbled across the New York Times article as well, and was disappointed that it is so inaccurate in terms of what a traditional Vietnamese sandwich really is. Since I haven't been in the states in a while, I'm guessing that people are just using the term banh mi to make a sandwich sound exotic, but it is not Vietnamese at all (daikon radish is not simply Vietnamese, as it can be found in any Asian country)! I thought your post was interesting, but felt compelled to add my two cents, hope it clears things up a bit. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *