I hate Sundays. There's no feeling worse than the dread that builds up inside you from the fact that you have to go back to work the next day. I started my Sunday out the usual way, running errands that I have to get done before the work week starts. Bought "necessities", e.g. paper towels, cleaning stuff, at Target, went to Office Depot to get some damn office supplies that my cheap-ass company won't provide, filled up the gas tank, etc. So I was already pissed of that it's Sunday, I just spent what seems like a small fortune on a bunch of crap, and to top it all off, I was hungry. Can a girl get a break???
I needed some cheap food fast. (But not cheap fast food a la McDonalds, Taco Bell, etc.) I was in the San Gabriel Valley so the decision shouldn't have been too hard--there's so many good cheap places here. But I needed something I could take out and perhaps eat in the car since I was by myself and I don't eat in alone, remember?
Recalling a foodie conversation I had with my coworkers on Friday, I ended up pulling in to a little mini mall next to Del Taco in Alhambra. But I wasn't going to Del Taco. Instead, I walked into a little Vietnamese deli called Ba Le to order a bahn mi sandwich. A bahn mi sandwich would be delicious and would only set me back 2 bucks.
Bahn Mi sandwiches are like Vietnamese submarine sandwiches, or hoagies, whatever you prefer to call it. They come with your choice of meat which could be a combo of Vietnamese cold cuts like headcheese and pate, roast chicken, pork, or meatballs (not the Italian kind, but the Vietnamese kind like you'd find in pho) stuffed into a 10" baguette. "So????" you say, "What's so special about that???" The thing that sets the Bahn Mi apart from its Western cousins is the extra stuff: these sandwiches are also filled with pickled daikon and carrots, slivers of cucumber, jalapeno, cilantro, soy sauce, lots of mayo, and sometimes, butter. All for less than 2 bucks. Now that's a sandwich.
Bahn Mi Thit Nuong (BBQ Pork Sandwich)
Bahn Mi Ga (Chicken Sandwich)
While I waited for my bahn mi, I took the liberty of looking around Ba Le. Most people are used to your more mainstream Jewish, Italian or American delis. You've got your sandwiches plus a bunch of other goodies to look at like prepared salads, breads, and other specialties. Going to a Vietnamese deli like Ba Le is no different. The sandwiches are the stars but there's so many other treats to get along with your sandwich it can make your head spin. There's a cold case arranged neatly with colorful deserts made with ingredients like coconut milk, taro, yam, and sweet rice packed in plastic cups and containers. An adjacent cold case displays Vietnamese meat products. As one would find packages of proscuitto and serrano ham at a Western deli, you will find packaged headcheese, fried pork, fish cake, or pate here. Also for sale: crusty baguettes and rolls as well as packages of goi cuon, Vietnamese spring rolls, and rice noodle and meat combos stacked high near the register.
Ba Le's Many Goodies
Fortunately for me, Ba Le doesn't have an eating area, otherwise I'd be forced into some tough decision making like the other day at Porto's. So I grabbed my order and went to the car to eat. Today, I picked up a barbecue pork bahn mi for myself sans cilantro since the shit makes me gag, and a chicken bahn mi to take home to Isaac. The baguette was toasted and crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside. The pork was sweet and a little too artificially red-colored in my opinion but still good. The "extra stuff"--daikon, carrots, cucumbers, jalapenos, mayo--was just divine. I was happy for a moment there, eating my bahn mi, staring at shrubbery and listening to the radio.
But I still hate Sundays.
1426 S. Atlantic Blvd.
Alhambra, CA 91803