Bahn Mi beat down, West Coast style

Sing Sing bahn mi cutaway

Cutaway view of Sing Sing special combination bahn mi. Would it reign supreme?

Merriweather vs Pacquiao. Leonard vs Duran. Rousey vs Correia. The matchups between legendary opponents merit extra scrutiny because of their rarity and the possibility of a “fight for the ages” which lives up to the hype.

Bahn Mi wrapped

Round One: the combatants arrive at the ring (OAK gate 30). The heavyweight Saigon is on the left.

So I hoped it would be when I curated a head-to-head taste test between Special Combination Bahn Mis, from Sing Sing Sandwich and Saigon Sandwich in San Francisco’s Tenderloin. I had a bit of extra time on the way to OAK so I visited the two shops in succession and ordered the same thing, extra spicy, then tucked them into my flight bag and spread them for inspection when I arrived at the gate.

Bahn Mi tops

Round Two: the sandwiches unwrapped. What’s that coming out of the Saigon at the very bottom?

Saigon Sandwich is the perennial favorite that gets no respect, other than from the hordes who stand in line outside. There are no lines at Sing Sing, unless you count the old men sitting in rows on the bench outside and shooting the breeze, yet it’s the darling of local foodies and cognoscenti including Bahn Mi guru Andrea Nguyen, who introduced me to this hole-in-the wall a couple years back.

Sing Sing side view

Round Three: top view of Sing Sing sandwich

My first Sing Sing visit produced the best Special Combo I’d ever experienced. But a second visit disappointed. They’d changed their buns and the smaller new sandwich seemed to have lost a step. It was in hopes that was a fluke that I arranged today’s face off.

Saigon Sandwich side view

Round Three: Saigon Sandwich top view

You can see the results in pictures. In Rounds One and Two, Saigon is ahead simply on size and volume. But then we observe the insides more closely and the contest starts to go the other way. There’s something worrisome in the top view of the Saigon sandwich—something that does not belong, like a cut under a fighter’s eye.

Then we open them up for a cross section (I had to bite into the Saigon to do this, since the sandwich was not sliced at the shop) and the differences become clear. Sing Sing is beautifully crafted, including hollowing out the roll to add more room for the ingredients, while Saigon is a lumbering, out of control beast. Sonny Liston comes to mind.

Saigon Sandwich cutaway

Cutaway of Saigon bahn mi with illegal roast pork. Sing Sing wins by TKO.

And then—the ref blows the whistle and raises his hands. Saigon has been disqualified! That suspicious brown substance turns out to be five-spice roast pork, probably used because their regular “fancy pork” was in short supply. But it throws off the flavor balance and, anyway, it’s as out of place as a ball bearing inside a pugilist’s glove.

Out of respect, I eat the loser for lunch, then turn to the remaining half of the Sing Sing Bahn Mi. I realize that even though it’s less generous and its flavor was subtle, it did everything necessary to win on points.

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