one can certainly blame the french for more than 70 years of oppression and near-slavery of the vietnamese from the late 19th century to the 1950s. yet, the merging of french and vietnamese cuisines provides a bright spot in this period, one result of which is banh mi, innovative vietnamese sandwiches on french baguettes.
tiny counter-joint baoguette, sells banh mi for ridiculously cheap prices. mine was stuffed with three different kinds of pork (paté, fried pork and sliced pork) as well as garlic aioli,
vietnamese pickled vegetables and a fragrant dose of cilantro ($5). you can specify spicy or not, and i said "not" to my regret. a squirt of hot sauce would have countered the pork's heaviness. a woman next to me kvelled over her catfish banh mi, doused in honey mustard ($7). these sandwiches are weird but wonderful.
however, what i loved best was my goi du du: green papaya and shrimp salad ($5). julienned strips of green papaya mingle with chopped peanuts, licorice flavored basil, cilantro, lime juice and shrimp, halved and lightly fried. the crunchy papaya salad with its sweet/sour dressing is the very essence of refreshing and healthy, too: unripe papaya is loaded with an enzyme that helps you digest proteins. *watch for the opening of two more baoguette restaurants -- baoguette 61 lexington ave. (between 25th and 26th streets) 212-518-4089