N. Lee Bakery, Collingwood, Melbourne
I fell in love with the humble banh mi after eating a few in Vietnam; when they’re done freshly and properly, they’re just about the best sandwich you could possibly ask for. Traditionally, you’re looking at a super fresh, slightly crunchy on the outside and pillowy soft on the inside roll, filled with pate, butter, grilled pork, cucumber, carrot, chilli and coriander. They’re the ultimate Vietnamese street food – super cheap (I can’t remember paying more than the equivalent of AUD $1.20 for one in Vietnam), hand held, and fresh (read: not deep fried).
Despite Melbourne’s huge Vietnamese population, I’ve been a little hesitant to start my banh mi hunt back at home, because I know what they’re meant to taste like now. What if my very high expectations are dashed? I can’t be wasting valuable calories and stomach space on crap food! But, alas, I had a craving for one, and cravings must be met. A quick fact finding mission led me to N. Lee Bakery. I was already familiar with the name, given the one on Collins St near the post office that I pass every now and then while I’m out running work errands. The one husband and I visited was the Smith St store. We rolled up just before 12pm on a sunny Saturday, and found ourselves around 8 deep in the already growing line. By the time we’d ordered and sat down to unwrap our sandwiches, we looked up and saw this line out the door. It was crazy!
I was pretty excited to see in the window the sign advertising the day’ special – crackling pork! My favourite! Husband got the grilled pork. First up – insanely, unbelievably cheap! Mine cost $6.80, and husband’s $4.50 – I actually asked the lady to repeat herself when she asked for the total, because it sounded too cheap, especially considering how big the sandwiches actually were! No wonder the line was out the door! And check out the nice, crispy bits of pork in mine..
The banh mi themselves – all reservations I had were instantly dashed on the first bite. It was easily as good as the stuff I ate in Vietnam, and made the same way, even down the the pate and butter smears to start the process. I had a few bites of husband’s sandwich too, and the pork in both was fantastic, really tasty and perfectly cooked. And stacked full, as you can see!
Honestly, there’s nothing more I can say about the banh mi from N. Lee other than they’re making the best stuff I’ve had out of Vietnam, and I plan to make myself a regular visitor at the CBD one on lunch breaks!