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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.