Before Sandwich Hag was overtaken by severe popularity thanks to Bon Appétit, I went to this stand in the Cedars and got the same thing: a lemongrass pork banh mi. If I had a friend with me, add an order of the tofu spring rolls (with extra peanut sauce, because I’m not sharing that).
But now I’m conflicted, because there’s another item on the regular menu (chef Reyna Duong has exciting items as specials). The Vietnamese curry, whether you choose chicken or vegan, will haunt you after eating it, it’s so good ($12).
“Traditionally it’s eaten as a breakfast,” Duong says. “They call it curry, but really it’s soup. Curry’s really a paste, and I believe the paste is used in Indian as well as Thai cooking. For Vietnamese curry, there is no paste. I blend all my own spices to create the flavor; and the way that I cook it down, it creates the consistency so that it’s not so thin.”
And the texture is memorable, soft and velvet-like. There’s not much heat, but it’s deep in flavor from the spices that cook in this soup for several hours.
You won’t get this on top of or with a side of rice, either. Instead, you’ll be handed a sliced baguette with your curry. Of course, Duong still picks up her bread daily for the banh mi; but when it’s on its own, free from the distraction of some perfect pork, you really see the value in how fresh that bread is. Then as it’s dipped into the curry, its structure succumbs to the flavor and serves as a vehicle for this soup that beams with a vibrant yellow from turmeric.
“I taught myself [how to make it]. Growing up in my mom’s kitchen, she was so masterful at everything. She would make curry with duck, which is also traditional, more gamy, but I love it ... carrots, potatoes, and it was much chunkier,” Duong says.
At Sandwich Hag, she opts for chicken thighs. The vegan version has the same soup, but some extra red cabbage, fried shallots and torn mint leaves.
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“It’s beautiful, then with the heat with the curry, it slowly wilts it, but there’s still a nice texture, it’s still nice and savory,” she says.
So add this curry to your rotation in getting lunch or dinner at Sandwich Hag. (If you haven’t gone yet, go with friends and just order the mains from the menu.) It’s still plenty busy, so I opt for calling ahead or ordering online.
Until then, I’ll just sit here and dream about that magical curry.
Sandwich Hag, 1902 S. Lamar St. (the Cedars). Open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday.