tofu bánh mì and bubble tea

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i have finally perfected one of my favorite meals and am so excited to share it with you! i work in a part of portland where there is are myriad asian restaurants and grocery stores. at least once a week i make the short trek with co-workers to best baguette for a sandwich and some bubble tea. i will leave that job with a healthy (?) addiction to bubble tea and after about five attempts making it in my kitchen and i think i’ve nailed it.

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when i first heard of bánh mì i was very skeptical. asian food on a baguette. what?! how can those two foods be put together and make sense? but the origins offer an obvious explanation; vietnam was colonized by the french. for over a century france is there shoving its moral and religious values on the native people, taxing them, profiting from opium and alcohol trading, and eventually exploiting the natural resources of the area. only to leave once they’ve created the conditions that will lead to the vietnam war and the arguable genocide of a people.

this sandwich, like many others, is a legacy of colonialism. it makes me wonder what a free exchange of cultures would look like rather than the dominant culture appropriating things (and selling things like the “navajo hipster panty”). this sandwich is also so damn good. it’s a bit conflicting when prefaced with that history.

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i think its important to know the history of your food. it doesn’t mean i’m going to boycott bánh mì—it just means i know why the soy marinated tofu is on a baguette and that is a reminder to continue to speak out against the colonialism that is still occurring.

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the word bánh mì refers to the airy french bread that the sandwich is served on. the bread gets a good coating of mayo, lightly pickles carrots, daikon, and cilantro, sometimes a spicy pepper, and usually a meat filling. we’re using tofu here.

today we’re going to eat that baguette with bubble tea! bubble tea is usually a milky smoothie with some powdered fruit flavor in there but i prefer to stick to the basics. i just drink the boba (tapioca bubbles) in iced jasmine green tea. so delicious! (on my list of food to-dos make an alcoholic boba drink is near the top. i’ll get there.)

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tofu bánh mì

serves 2

1 large loaf french bread (ideally with a thin crust)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
6 to 8 sprigs of cilantro
1/2 jalapeño, thinly sliced (optional)
2 lime wedges
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon oil (i use a combination of olive and sesame)

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pickled veggies:
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup shredded daikon radish
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt

combine all ingredients in a bowl. let sit in the fridge for at least a half hour.

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marinated tofu:
1 block extra firm tofu
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed

slice tofu into ten strips. line the bottom of a long shallow container with five tofu strips (a bread pan is perfect for this). rub tofu with half of the garlic. place the remaining five strips of tofu on top and rub the remaining garlic on them. add soy sauce and rice wine vinegar to the container and add just enough cold water so that the tofu is fully covered. let marinate for at least a half hour.

when you are ready to prepare the bánh mì pull the tofu out of the marinade and lay it out on a plate. sprinkle with half a tablespoon sugar and place the tofu sugar side down in an oiled pan on medium heat. cook for about 10 minutes, until the tofu is browned on one side and most of the liquid has dissolved. before flipping the tofu, sprinkle the remaining half tablespoon sugar on the uncooked side. cook an additional five minutes until browned.

cut your baguette in half so you have two pieces and then slice down the middle (not cutting all the way through) so you can begin to assemble your sandwich. spread each sandwich with a tablespoon of mayonnaise (more if you like! don’t skimp on this step for health reasons, this sandwich isn’t delicious without the mayo). arrange 5 slices of tofu on each sandwich and top with a good amount of pickled vegetables, squeezing excess liquid out of them before adding to your sandwich. add 3 or 4 sprigs of cilantro and jalapeno slices on top if you are using. finally, squeeze each sandwich with a lime wedge and chomp down.

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a little trick i like to use when making this sandwich is to cut a small piece of bread and assemble a mini sandwich before preparing the larger ones. this lets me know if more salt, sugar, vinegar, or lime is necessary for the flavor to be right. i think i’ve perfected the ratios in this recipe but i still do it because its a nice appetizer.

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bubble teaserves 2

1/2 cup boba (large tapioca bubbles, you can find them in most asian food stores)
1/4 cup sugar
32 oz. unsweetened jasmine iced tea

heat a small pot of water on high. when the water is at a rolling boil, pour the boba into the water and cover the pot. cook for 8 minutes.

drain the boba, leaving a small amount of water. transfer the boba to a cool dish and mix in the sugar. let cool for about a half hour.

to assemble place half the boba in the bottom of a large class. top with ice and pour jasmine tea over. drink with a very wide straw.

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