Six Dollars Too Much And Bad Besides: The Whole Foods Bánh Mì

Dave Lieberman
Orange County's third Whole Foods opened in mid-October in the Bella Terra complex at Beach and Edinger in Huntington Beach. This didn't stir up much sentiment around these parts, since most of us at Fork live closer to the organic juggernaut of a Whole Foods in Tustin, until we discovered that the "local flavor" sandwich at the new Whole Foods's food court was bánh mì.

It makes sense, of course. The Whole Foods at Bella Terra is quite literally a stone's throw from Westminster, the epicenter of Vietnamese culture in Southern California. Little Saigon finally has a Whole Foods to call home, and it makes sense that they might want a bánh mì while shopping...

...except that the aforementioned bánh mì is eight dollars. That's not a misprint; the "local flavor sandwiches", which give you the choice of a steak bánh mì or a vegan bánh mì, are $7.99--plus tax if you eat it on the premises.

Dave Lieberman
Let's put this in perspective. A ten-inch bánh mì at Banh Mi Cho Cu costs $2. For that price, you could have exactly an inch and a half of this Whole Foods creation.

Banh Mi Che Cali, with outposts just a few minutes up Bolsa or down the 405, offers $2.25 bánh mì with a buy-two-get-one-free offer. This means that for $16, you could buy two Whole Foods bánh mì; for $18, you could buy a dozen from Banh Mi Che Cali.

Before getting to the sandwich itself, let's review what a bánh mì is. It's a length of bread (either baguette or a crusty roll), spread with garlic mayonnaise, pickled shredded daikon radish and carrots, cilantro and chile peppers. The customer picks the filling--grilled pork and beef are common, as are Vietnamese cold cuts such as white pork roll or head cheese. Pâté is a popular choice, and marinated fried tofu or vegan cold cuts are commonly sold.

There are variations on bánh mì: some feature soy sauce or Maggi seasoning, some add herbs besides cilantro, and some add cucumbers for crunch, but this all fits comfortably within the universe of bánh mì ingredients.

Then there's the Whole Foods bánh mì.

Dave Lieberman
"I'll take 'Things That Are Not Bánh Mì' for $200, Alex."
A pre-cut, six-inch length of baguette was split open; garlic paste was spread on it. A large handful (probably a quarter of a cup, packed) of shredded cilantro was pressed into the garlic; five or six mint leaves were place on top. Since the steak was unavailable--is there no meat counter at Whole Foods?--a large pile of shaved chicken breast was mounded on top, and the sandwich was closed, cut and wrapped. Other than the substitution of the meat, this was exactly what was written up on the board.

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