Hing Won’s Banh Mi Fills My Duck Craving
Although the banh mi craze seems to be dying down, the French-Vietnamese sandwiches (or knockoffs might be a better word) are still all around us. The Boi restaurants kicked it off in Midtown back in 2007. By 2010, there was enough of it available to hold a banh-mi-palooza (Baoguette was the winner). All it took was Pret to release their rendition for our attitudes toward banh mi to quickly shift from fascinated to blasé.
I hadn’t had one in a few years, but I was reminded about them while reading the “A Sandwich a Day” blog from Serious Eats last week about the crispy pork belly banh mi at Hing Won, that linked back to a post about the duck version in June. Most people, including Zach, experience a WTF moment when they see a banh mi on the menu at a Chinese restaurant. But Hing Won has a special place in all of our hearts since it’s where ML started off back in ‘06. (Wow.)
You would be right to argue that duck is not a normal banh mi ingredient. The sandwich would usually include some kind of pork product (I have yet to try with pork liver paté – any recommendations of what to try first?). And MAN do I adore pork! But I think my favorite meat of all, hands down, is duck. I got hooked on roast duck over rice several years ago in Hong Kong but I what I really love are Peking duck pancakes. I’ll even roast one up at home sometimes. So, I’m always on a duck hunt, but since it tends to be more expensive and less obtainable compared to other meats, I don’t eat it nearly as often as I would like.
The duck banh mi was a perfect opportunity to fill my duck craving at only $7.00 a sandwich. It took me a moment to figure out the routine ordering procedure amidst the bustling atmosphere… which line to order, which line for the buffet? I finally figured it out and ordered. He didn’t write it down but just yelled something in Chinese, and told me to wait over to the side. With so many people, I was skeptical as to whether or not this system of ordering would actually work (it didn’t for one customer, I noticed).
Although I couldn’t see him from my vantage point where I was waiting, I saw while I was placing my order that the guy who prepares the sandwiches has his own little counter with roast meats hanging up (you can see him in the background of this pic). When I heard him chop-chop-chopping away, I just knew it was my duck. And in just a few minutes I was on my way.
I’ll now issue a critical warning: if you share an office with coworkers who have delicate olfactory systems, be advised NOT to bring this sandwich back to your office. I believe it’s the pickled daikon (white radish) that emits this sensational farty smell — a bit like overcooked broccoli or Brussels sprouts but with a garbagy twist. When I opened the box, I was immediately hit. I thought, “You gotta be kiddin’ me.” My office mate came back from her lunch 30 minutes later and said she could smell it three rooms over as she walked in. Readers, this is a very odorific lunch. Unless you are OK with your colleagues thinking you’re casually dropping bombs, you might want to eat this one in the park.
If you can get past the smell, this turns out to be a large, decent tasting sandwich. Here’s a photo of the sandwich and a generous helping of prawn crackers for size.
The flavor of the roast duck is wonderful, the meat is rich and greasy as duck should be, and it really fills my craving. I just wish there was a little more! The pickled carrots, cucumber, and daikon gave the sandwich a perfectly pungent flavor that produces the strong smell. The cilantro provided herbiness and crunch, while the mayo gave it the extra moisture it needed. I would’ve added about 10 times more jalapeno pepper slices, bringing the grand total of slices to… 10. But good luck asking them for extra; I have a feeling with all the commotion there it would be hard to get a special order. Also, the baguette tasted like a regular deli roll and it was just touching upon staleness. The duck juices helped it out, thankfully. One final criticism, what is up with the four prawn crackers? First, only four just seems like a tease, and second, they were either completely stale or the steam from the sandwich had changed their consistency on the way back to the office.
So, although this sandwich is not a traditional banh mi and is by no means perfect, it’s something I’d go back for if I happen to have a hankering for duck. Or… if readers have suggestions for good duck dishes, I’d be grateful for any advice. What duck-based lunches in Midtown do you keep going back for?
Hing Won, 48 W 48th St btw 5+6th, 212-719-1451