Banh Mi from Cao Thang and Vitasoy's coconut drink: the perfect lunch?
Originally uploaded by michelle1975.
I first got hooked on "Banh Mi"--Vietnamese submarine sandwiches--when I came to Montreal as an undergraduate years and years ago now. I came across them not in "Chinatown," where the greatest concentration of Vietnamese shops and restaurants, and therefore Banh Mi shops, now stand, but on Ste-Catherine just to the north. I was walking down Ste-Catherine one winter's day around lunchtime when I saw a sign advertising sandwiches vietnamiennes, so I popped into this small fast food restaurant (long gone now) and tried one. Vietnamese sauteed vegetables, tofu, Japanese mayonnaise, hot peppers, cilantro, and a soy-based dressing served inside a mini-baguette--I found them irresistible right from the get-go, and although the area I was coming from (Northern Virginia) had loads of Vietnamese shops and restaurants, I'd never seen anything like them.
These days, my favorite Banh Mi shop is a tiny little place called Cao Thang located on the west side of St. Laurent between René-Lévesque and de la Gauchetière next to a jewelry shop. I started going there in 1999 when I returned to Montreal, and although I know a lot of other people that favor other Banh Mi specialists in the area, I've tried those other guys, and Cao Thang is still by far and away my favorite.
Thursday, Michelle met me for lunch and we rode our bikes down to Cao Thang to pick up a couple of Vietnamese Subs, some of their excellent spring rolls, and a couple of drinks for a picnic. Upon digging in, Michelle declared that she could have the same lunch "every day." I'm not sure if I'd go that far, but there is an argument to be made that this is the perfect lunch. It's delicious, it's satisfying, and it's so inexpensive. Years of inflation have only nudged the price of a 6" Vietnamese Sub up to $2.50. An order of Cao Thang's fresh spring rolls will set you back $3.50, but you get 3 spring rolls, and they're packed with vermicelli, bean sprouts, herbs, and 3 medium-sized shrimp each (!). Where else can you get 9 shrimp for $3.50?
Cao Thang's display coolers are filled with all kinds of tempting and colorful delicacies, including steamed BBQ pork buns, savory-filled feuilleté pastries, and a whole assortment of rice dishes, including the one whose name we like the best: Riz de Bonheur.
Recommended: Grilled Chicken, Grilled Pork, and Vegetarian Banh Mi.
Cao Thang, 1082 St-Laurent Blvd., 392-0097
note: apologies for any and all improper punctuation in this post. We're woefully ignorant of Vietnamese punctuation rules and practices, given how much we love Vietnamese food.--eds