Bulgogi Banh Mi

As an American carb-lover in Asia, banh mi is my idea of perfection. It's stacked with intensely flavorful pork and fragrant fresh herbs, it's got sour-sweet pickled carrots and turnips, all on crusty French bread. And French bread is better than white rice.

Some of y'all might not agree that bread is better, and you're entitled to your opinion, but I need to be honest and frank about this: I love living in Taiwan, but I love bread and potatoes way more than rice and noodles.

Like Mitch Hedberg said, "Rice is great when you're hungry and you want 2,000 of something."

I hope we can still make this relationship work. It's not like we aren't united by our common humanity and our love for cheese, chocolate, and hot pot

Bulgogi means "fire meat", but I think things got out of hand for a moment here.
Beef bulgogi, onions, and garlic on the tabletop grill.

Conventionally, you would make a banh mi sandwich with a selection of processed meats, fresh herbs and vegetables, and grilled meats. I always scope the reference section of Battle of the Banh Mi when I am looking for guidance or inspiration. 

Our Vietnamese grilled pork would also make a great filling. Me, I wanted to mix things up, make things a little sweeter and spicier, so I put Korean bulgogi on my banh mi. It turned out awesome! But really, people have been putting bulgogi in tacos, on pizzas, and on hot dogs, so I knew it would be awesome. 

Table set for a traditional meal of Korean bulgogi banh mi and Sangria.

Both Korean bulgogi and Vietnamese grilled pork are made with (or can be made with) credit-card thin slices of meat. The biggest difference is the flavors of the marinade. If you look at it that way, you could marinate your meat in Tennessee-style barbecue sauce and put it on a baguette and call it American banh mi. In fact, I don't know what's stopping you.

Beef bulgogi ready to be grilled
squid in a Korean-style marinade

Give yourself enough time to marinate the meat overnight in the refrigerator. You'll also want to make the pickled daikon and carrot a day or two before to give the vegetables time to soak up the vinegary brine.

We spread Japanese spicy mayo, ssamjang and other Korean barbecue dipping sauces on the bread to give the sandwiches maximum flavor. A wasabi mayonnaise spread would have also been amazing. Try out whatever you have on hand! Funk it up.

Banh mi pickle recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 carrot, peeled and julienned
  • 1/4 of a large daikon radish (Japanese radish), peeled and julienned
  • 3 tbsp white distilled vinegar or rice vinegar
  • 3 tbsp sugar (more or less to taste)
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 2 cups warm water

Directions

You can prepare the pickle up to five days before, but if you're doing it the day of the meal, finish it one hour before serving. 

  1. Put the julienned carrots and daikon radish in a clean, empty jar with plenty of extra space (an empty, clean 16-oz jar for peanut butter or jelly is fine).
  2. Dissolve the sugar and salt in the vinegar and water. Have a taste of your brine and decide if you want to add more vinegar, salt, or sugar. 
  3. Pour it over the vegetables, filling the jar.
  4. Close the lid and let it sit in a cool, dark place. 

Bulgogi recipe

Ingredients 

(makes 6-8 servings of meat)

  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 medium sweet onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes or a dash of ground red pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 lbs sirloin or rib-eye steak, sliced thin

For the banh mi

  • French bread: Cut a full baguette in 1/8s or smaller so that guests can experiment with more than one sandwich. Cut each piece lengthwise so it can be filled like a sub sandwich. 

Bulgogi Banh Mi fillings

Besides the meat, you should provide some of the following conventional and unconventional ingredients to make your sandwiches:

  • Banh mi pickle (daikon radish and carrot)
  • A big bunch of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
  • A big bunch of fresh mint leaves, removed from stems
  • A big much of Thai sweet basil leaves, removed from stems
  • Pate or liverwurst, enough to schmear each sandwich
  • Raw onions, sliced thick enough to grill
  • Green onions, minced
  • Mushrooms (grilled portabello caps make great sandwiches for friends who aren't eating meat)
  • Cucumbers, sliced thin along the length (you don't need to peel them, but do discard pieces that have too much tough skin)
  • Lettuce leaves (use them as sandwich filling or to make lettuce wraps when you can't eat any more bread)

Directions

  • Blend the ingredients for the marinade in a food processor until the onion disappears. Pour the marinade over the sliced meat inside a large Ziploc bag or a plastic container with a lid and let it marinate for at least four hours. 
  • Remove the meat from the marinade and discard the remaining liquid. Serve the raw meat on a plate or two for your guests.
  • When it’s time for dinner, cook the meat on your tabletop grill using chopsticks or a fork. Cook each piece to your desired level of doneness. The thin slices of beef shouldn’t need more than a minute to cook all the way through. 

Serving

You'll want to make small sandwiches so you and your guests can experiment with different combinations of sauces and toppings. 

  1. Set your tabletop grill in the middle of the table within easy access off all the guests. If you're using a grill with a cord, avoid putting it in a high-traffic route. Make sure all your guests are aware of the cord so they can avoid tripping on it. Please be safe. 
  2. Cut the bread into 1/8s or smaller, then slice each round open like a hoagie to fill with sandwich toppings. Put the bread in a serving basket on the table. 
  3. Put the fresh herbs and vegetables in servings bowls or plates on the table. 
  4. Put the sauces in bowls or bottles on the table. Provide spoons or spreading knives if you are serving the sauces in bowls. 
  5. Put the raw, ready-to-grill meat on the table. 
  6. Guests can use designated chopsticks or tongs to put the meat on the grill, turning it as needed to cook. The thinnest slices are cooked through when no more pink is visible. Let thicker slices stay on the grill a little longer. 
  7. Every person should put some toppings and sauces on their bread, and then add at least one piece of meat when it's thoroughly cooked. 
  8. Enjoy your bulgogi banh mi sandwich with a cold lager beer and good company.
  9. Switch to making bulgogi lettuce wraps when you're done eating French bread. 

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