Bahn Mi is a Vietnamese sandwich, almost always served on a baguette.  Its contents depend on what is wanted, and what is available, but there are a few consistent landmarks – there will be pork (sometimes in the form of charcuterie), there will be lightly pickled daikon and carrot, and there will be cilantro. The flavors are delicious, as the popularity of this take-out menu item attests.

As with most foods this specialized, there didn’t seem much purpose in trying to recreate a Bahn Mi at home.  I got to thinking, though, that the flavors might be incorporated into the hamburger-loving culture of my high school students.  The kids were scheduled for a field trip to my kitchen, and it looked like there were enough tasks in the project to keep everyone busy.  It has been my experience that kids will eat what they have prepared, even if it’s something new.  Carter and I did the first taste-testing run, and then I shamelessly used Carmaine and her family as my guinea pigs, serving the pork mixture in lettuce wraps.  Plans came into focus.

Here, then, is my recipe for Bahn Mi Burgers.  I have based the recipe on a pound of ground pork, which is the way you will find it in the grocery store. These are so delicious, you will be happy to freeze the remaining burgers (cooked or uncooked) for fast dinners in the future.

The field trip was successful, by the way.  No even a drizzle of dressing left.

Bahn Mi Burgers


Don’t freak out — every element has a purpose.  This recipe makes 4 or 5 patties, or about 20 meatballs. They freeze well, but the flavors will start to fade, so try to use them up within a couple of months.  Did you know that lean ground pork and lean ground beef have roughly the same caloric content?  Well, they do!

1 pound or about 600 grams lean ground pork ( you can use ground turkey or chicken, but I can pretty much guarantee the mixture will be so wet you will need to add crumbs later on … look for the note in the recipe ahead.)

1/4 tsp baking soda

¼ cup packed fresh basil, or about 1 Tablespoon good-quality dried, “tubed” or frozen basil

2 – 4 cloves of garlic, depending on how much you like, or ½ to 1 tsp garlic powder

3 green onions cut in 1-inch pieces (or 2 Tbsp dried chives, or ½ to 1 tsp onion powder)

Juice and zest of 1 lime

1 Tbsp fish sauce (not an option –  if leave it out, you leave out a whole bunch of flavor)

1/2 tsp sesame oil

1 Tbsp packed brown sugar

2 tsp cornstarch

Up to 1 tsp ground white pepper (black will work too, use a little bit more)

1 tsp kosher salt, or ¾ tsp table salt

Up to 1 Tbsp hot sauce (you choose – from hottest to least hot: Sriracha, Chili/Garlic, or Frank’s.  If you have to use Tabasco, start with less, perhaps a teaspoon)

Lemongrass – a 3-inch piece of the softer inner core, cut in ½ inch pieces  (You can use a little lemon zest if lemongrass isn’t available.)

1 heaping Tablespoon roughly chopped fresh ginger (or ½ tsp ground ginger, but it won’t have as much zip)

You’re also going to need some flavor-fortified mayonnaise, lettuce, quick-pickled daikon, carrot and cucumber, green onions and cilantro for garnish.  Recipes for the quick pickle and our suggestions for the mayonnaise follow.


Put the pork in a bowl, and break it up a bit with a fork.  Sprinkle the baking soda over it, as if you were seasoning it with salt.  Lightly toss the pork to distribute the baking soda.

Why are you doing this?  The baking soda raises the pH of the surface of the meat bits, so the proteins don’t bind quite as tightly as they would otherwise, and you get a more tender burger.

Put everything else in a blender.  Pulse and blend until everything is very finely chopped.  You need to give the green onions, ginger and lemongrass a head-start by chopping them in pieces, so don’t skip that step.

Add the puree to the pork.  Mix everything completely.  Your mixture will be slightly sticky – don’t panic.  You can shape it onto plastic wrap or parchment paper, using wet hands.

IF your mixture turns out to be extremely wet for some reason (like if you used turkey), you can tighten it up with breadcrumbs (Panko-type crumbs, or any dry bread crumbs, including gluten-free).  Start by mixing in ¼ cup, and let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes in the fridge for the crumbs to hydrate before seeing if you need more.

There is no way to tell how your burgers will taste if you don’t cook up a sample.  Although trichinosis (look it up) is largely a thing of the past in our commercial pork supply in Canada, I don’t think tasting the mixture raw is a particularly good indicator of how it is going to taste when cooked, all health concerns aside.  Take a couple of teaspoons of your mixture, make a teeny tiny burger, and fry it off.  Adjust the seasoning accordingly.  Taste again to see if you were right.  Write down your preferred amounts of seasoning, so you can do it the same way again next time. (See, Sabrina?  I was listening!)

Divide the mixture into 4 or 5 parts, and form each into a patty of the size you prefer.  If you want to use baguette pieces or panini buns instead of round burger buns, make your patties in a shape to suit the vessel.  Alternatively, you could make meatballs, each not quite as big as a golf-ball.  (Carter and I consumed an embarrassing number of meatballs when we did the first run of this recipe for tasting – it was thoroughly taste-tested, all right.)

No matter what shape you choose, cook your pork mixture over medium-high heat until it is no longer pink in the middle, with an internal temperature of 170°F (it’s not very easy to temp a meatball, but we tried).  Because I was making a huge batch, I baked my meatballs on a foil-lined cookie sheet in a 350°F oven for about 30 minutes.  I pan-fried quite thick burgers in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat for about 12 minutes total, turning every 2 minutes and lowering the heat after the first two turns. I’m sure these would be delicious off the barbecue, and would probably take a similar amount of time:  start over direct heat, and move to indirect heat to finish cooking.

Fortified Mayonnaise:
This is tasty with a lot of things, including French fries, so if you make more than you need, you won’t be sorry. To ½ cup of mayonnaise (or a 50/50 mix of mayo and Greek yogurt), add hot sauce (choose, as before), finely chopped green onions or chives, a good squeeze of lime juice and a pinch of white pepper. If you like smoky flavors, add a dash of smoked paprika. Add all seasonings to your taste, and please don’t forget to sample before you serve it to any guests:  just because it looks good doesn’t mean it will taste good.

Quick Pickled Vegetables:
Grate or finely julienne equal parts of carrot, Daikon (Japanese white radish – make sure you choose a firm one) and English cucumber (not the seeds).  I use my mandolin slicer for this, with the julienne blade in place, but the big holes on a box grater will work just as well.

Heat together equal parts unseasoned rice vinegar and sugar, stirring until the sugar dissolves.  Let it cool, and then pour this warm mixture over your grated veg, submerging it.

Let it sit for 10 minutes or so, and then drain and rinse the vegetables.  The strands will be quite wilted, so squeeze out as much moisture as possible by hand.  If needed, season with salt.

Make just as much as you need, but don’t throw away any extra. The pickles are good on sandwiches and in salads, and they’ll keep for a week, covered, in the fridge. You could add chopped cilantro to this mixture, as well as finely diced or thinly sliced fresh chilies, if you choose.

Now, put it all together.

It’s not just another pretty face.  Take a beef break:  try a Bahn Mi Burger!