The Cu-Banh-Mi: A Mash Up of Cuban and Vietnamese Food Culture

Kaia and I are slowly making our way into more culturally based cooking themes. In this case we chose to do a mash-up of 2 wildly different cultures: Cuban and Vietnamese.

Cuban food has influences from Spain, parts of Africa and the French. The French may be the only real food connection between Cuba and Vietnam. Vietnamese food is the second part of our mash-up. There are some French influences in Vietnamese food, but I’ve always found it interesting that Vietnamese food includes five types of nutrients: powder, water or liquid, mineral elements, protein, and fat. We love the history and cultural influences on both Cuban and Vietnamese cuisine… and also, who doesn’t love a great sammie?

So this week we created a mash-up of two famous sandwiches from each cuisine: the Cubano and the Pork Belly Banh Mi to create our Cu-Banh-Mi. (pronounced Cue-Bon-Mee)

The Cubano sandwich is traditionally made on Cuban bread with cooked ham (sliced), roasted pork (sliced), Swiss cheese (sliced), dill pickle planks, mustard and/or mayo. Sounds delicious, right?

The Banh-Mi is a sandwich made with a meat protein of your choice, pickled veggies, cilantro, pepper and sliced cucumbers on a French baguette. Banh means bread and Mi means wheat in Vietnamese. So the translation is Wheat Bread.

We are big on sandwiches (as you might remember from our beets and grilled post), and not just any sandwiches, but we’re BIG on BIG ol’ sandwiches. So we combined two of our favorites into one big monster sammich!

We shopped at our local Whole Foods this week on the way home from Kaia’s school.

Our shopping list included:

  • 2 lbs of Pork Belly – $5.99 an lb
  • 2 organic cucumbers – $1.49 each
  • 1 Jar of pickle planks – $3.99
  • 1 Diakon – $1.29 an lb
  • 1 Jalapeno – $0.21
  • 1 bag of baby carrots – $1.99
  • 1 Baguette – $2.49

We already had white wine vinegar, sugar, cilantro and seasonings at home for pickling. If you plan on pickling your veggies I would suggest grabbing these ingredients as well. This happens to be one of Kaia’s favorite pastimes… she loves her science and the first time we pickled something it was like a big kitchen science experiment to her. I love that she enjoys the kitchen as much as I do – I’m one lucky Papa! You might be surprised when your kids love this too. We are all about creating a bonding experience and hope that the tools to do so are in our writing.

With our ingredients ready, we are now ready to cook:

Kaia turned on the oven to a temp of 450 degrees to preheat. Then she got out the aluminum foil and lined one of our baking sheets (cookie sheet). I opened up the pork belly and rubbed it with some brown sugar, salt and pepper. The brown sugar sweetens and adds color to the belly in the oven. We had 2 pieces that we placed on the sheet, fat side up. We’ll cook it at 450 degrees for 25 minutes.

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Using this “high heat” (450 degrees for the first 25 minutes) approach will render the fat from the top portion of the pork, creating a crispy top layer to the belly. After the first 25 minutes, lower the temp of the oven to 375. Cook for another 35 to 40 minutes. If this is your first time with a pork belly, and you have any questions about whether or not it’s done the internal temp should read 165 degrees on your thermometer. Once done in the oven, remove the pork belly from the baking sheet and wrap in aluminum foil. Place in the fridge for an hour. Keep the oven on, you’ll use it again soon!

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For safety purposes I deal with the knife cuts. In this case it’s to cut the daikon, carrots and jalapeno (deseeded) into what we, cooks, refer to as julienned (2 inches long and 1/8 inch around). Julienned veggies should be similar in size to thick toothpicks. If you can’t get the cut that thin without slicing your fingertips off, do your best – the cutting skills only come with A LOT of practice over time (and I’ve had a lot of practice in the kitchen and a few slices to the index finger).

Have the kiddo’s make the pickling liquid, combine and mix: ½ cup of water, ¼ cup of sugar, 1 cup of white wine vinegar. Add the veggies and coat them in the pickling fluid. Place in the fridge next to the belly.

The kids can also have fun with the mayo/mustard mix. It’s as simple as it sounds – ½ cup of mayo and ¼ cup of mustard with about 1 tsp of red chile flake. Mix it well and put it in the fridge.

Slice your baguette length-wise from tip to tip. Spread the bread open and add some melted butter or olive oil. Place the bread in the oven face up and toast it. After removing the bread from the oven set it aside.

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Have the kiddo’s grab all the other ingredients from the fridge. Open up the pork belly and slice ¼ inch to ½ inch pieces (In lieu of using the traditional cubano cooked ham and roasted pork we are going with larger slices of the pork belly). Get a sauté pan and get it to medium heat with some oil or butter. There is really no difference between the oil or butter, this is simply to keep the unrendered fat on the belly from sticking to the pan. Lay flat the pork belly and heat in pan.

While I did this, Kaia was smearing the bread with our mayo/mustard mixture and placing the pickle planks on the bottom part of the bread.

You can then start placing the heated pork belly on top of the pickle planks. Followed by the pickled veggies, sliced cucumber and cilantro. Make sure your kidlets have put the mayo/mustard spread on the top of the bread as well. Silly kids sometimes need further coaching (wink wink).

Watch the video here.

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Once complete, we cut our monster Cu-Banh-Mi sandwiches, plated ‘em up, and enjoyed these tasty delights!