The first time I ordered one at Ba Le in Chicago it was actually a mistake. The shop, which looks a bit like a 7-Eleven with bamboo and gold accents, tends to get quite busy around lunchtime, so my request for the special of the day (pate, ham, cheese and pork roll ) was probably muted under my mask amidst the noise of the crowd and a Vietnamese-language cover of Sixpence None the Richer’s “Kiss Me”. What I got instead was their version of a Turkish submarine.
I took it, along with an avocado smoothie, out on a bright blue picnic table and had a bite. Then another and another. Eventually, I pushed him across the table to my boyfriend. “I think this is the best turkey sandwich I’ve ever eaten,” I said. He nodded.
Don’t get me wrong, I ate some good turkey sandwiches. There’s my annual Thanksgiving leftover sandwich, which is filled with filling and smeared with cranberry sauce. I might as well be poetic about the merits of a diner quality club, but this Ba Le sandwich is always great.
Let me break down its components.
Just like a traditional bánh mì, it is served on a crispy baguette cut, toasted and spread with Vietnamese mayonnaise. By the way, they sell jars of their homemade mayonnaise from a refrigerated case at the counter; it is dense and buttercup yellow due to the high concentration of whipped egg yolk. Then comes the turkey breast and very thin slices of Swiss cheese.
The sandwich is then topped with lots of cilantro and strips of delicate white onion, as well as a couple of different types of pickled vegetables, including carrots, daikon, and some particularly vinegared jalapeño slices. Depending on who is behind the counter, the sandwich may be sprinkled with a little soy sauce, or not.
The result is a simple yet wildly nuanced sandwich, rich in umami that hits all these major and minor flavor notes: sour, sweetness and spice of vegetables, creaminess and funk of mayonnaise and cheese, verdance of coriander, sapidity of turkey and soy – never getting drenched.
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Recently, to allay my guilt for spending so much money on Ba Le sandwiches, I went ahead and bought the ingredients to make my own version (which actually included Ba Le baguette and mayonnaise). It was delicious and definitely beats the turkey sandwiches I had previously made for myself between business meetings.
Goodbye, sad beige amalgam of wheat bread, charcuterie slices and a mustard stain. Hello, craved turkey submarine!
Inspired by Ba Le Sandwiches of Chicago
For the sandwich
- 1 6- to 8-inch baguette, divided and toasted
- 4 ounces of sliced turkey
- 4 ounces of sliced Swiss cheese
- 1 tablespoon of yolk mayonnaise (see ed)
- 1 teaspoon of soy sauce
- 1/4 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
- Sliced white onion for garnish
For pickled vegetables
- 1 large carrot, cut into sticks
- 1 daikon radish, cut into sticks
- 2 jalapeños, thinly sliced
- 4 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons of white sugar
- Salt to taste
- In a large bowl, combine the sliced carrot, daikon radish and jalapeños with the rice wine vinegar and sugar. Pour enough water into the bowl to completely cover the vegetables, season with salt and mix. Leave the vegetables to set for at least 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, put the mayonnaise and soy sauce in a small bowl. Whip them together, then spread them on both halves of the divided and toasted baguette. Stack with the turkey, Swiss cheese, cilantro, and white onion. Set aside.
- Drain the pickled vegetables from the brine. Put at least 1 tablespoon on the sandwich. Any remaining pickled vegetables can be stored in a sealable container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
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