Of Cambridge’s many and interesting food vans, perhaps my favourite is Jalan Jalan. They do a few bits of Vietnamese street food, but for my money the star is the tofu and ginger banh mi.
It is just the best sandwich, and I had to make it at home.
Banh mi – the gentrified current evolution of colonial food mingling – probably began life as light baguettes filled with fresh vegetables, over pâté and cold cuts. Being just super street food friendly, it’s got a bit more elaborate by now. There’s even a cookbook.
This means I don’t feel too bad about mine likely not being very authentic. It’s crunchy/sweet/fresh with crispy fried tofu and some zingy ginger. What more could you want in a sandwich.
I won’t lie, this takes some fuss. Nothing crazy, but it’s not a ten-minute lunch.
- Firm tofu, 400g
- Ginger, around 1cm
- Light soy sauce, 2tbsp
- Sugar, 2tsp
- Shaoxing, 1tbsp
- Carrot, 1 medium
- Cucumber, half a small-ish one
- Ginger, 1/2-1cm or so (a bit, basically)
- Sugar, 1tsp
- Cider vinegar, 1tbsp
- Sesame oil, 1/2tsp
- Salt, a little
- Peas, 150g
- Garlic, 1-2cloves to taste
- Mint, handful
- Salt & black pepper
- Optional: Cream cheese 1-2tbsp
- Bread, 2 decent small baguettes (or chunks of a large one)
- Coriander, handful
- Maybe some mayo?
This will serve two generously.
You can take it vegan by cutting out the cream cheese in the pea puree – it’s probably excessive anyway.
For the tofu, you want it quite firm, but not super-solid. Obviously, the firmer, the easier to handle, but too dense and this is really heavy. I like to use the firm kind in water you can pick up in the fridges of most Chinese supermarkets. Cauldron do one you can find in the vegie sections of larger supermarkets, and that’s ok but on the stodgy side.
Bread is important, too. I’ve used a supermarket baguette here (sorry?) and it’s a bit too chunky and close-textured. Ideally you want something with a looser crumb, and that wonderful slightly crisp, slightly chewy texture. More French, basically.
First, prepare the tofu. Slice it into thick slices, 2-3 per sandwich. Grate the ginger very fine, mix it with the other marinade ingredients, and slosh it all over the tofu, coating thoroughly. A plastic bag is good for this if the tofu isn’t too fragile. The longer you leave it, the better, but anything over an hour isn’t a disaster.
For the veg pickle, grate the carrot and cucumber, then press out most of the liquid. Grate in the ginger, add the other ingredients, and mix well. Refrigerate until you need it – leaving it a while helps the flavours mingle, so again an hour or two is good.
For the pea puree, quickly blanch the peas in boiling water – a minute or so should do, even from frozen. Then drain them well, pressing out a bit of the moisture, and just blitz all the ingredients in a food processor. This can still be quite wet – I don’t have a problem with that, and it makes a great dip if you’ve got leftovers.
To assemble the sandwiches, fry the tofu in a little oil, quite hot, for 3-4 mins on each side, until it’s got some nice golden browning. When it’s pretty much done, pour over the marinade and reduce until it’s just a sticky glaze.
Sandwich time. In each, lay down a good thick layer of pea puree, then a handful of coriander. Tofu next, then heaps of the pickled veg. You can dress with more mayo or even a chili sauce at this point, but I like to just leave it to the ginger to give a light heat.
The flavour and texture has layers, with a little ginger kick running through it. You get the crisp-then-soft of the tofu, a fresh veg crunch, and the sweet-ish notes from the carrot and the ginger glaze. This is a fucking epic sandwich.
They make a generous lunch, or a really nice summer dinner. Perhaps pair them with some beansprouts stir-fried with garlic, or a leafy salad. I reckon a crisp white to go with – an Albariño maybe, or Verdicchio. I should probably have gone with something french, but we’re already so culturally muddled here that it’s diminishing returns.