We drove through the streets of Philly with the immediacy of a getaway car. We were not, however, escaping. We were on the hunt for a very specific purveyor of bánh mì.
Some people cook big batches of food on Sunday (like this grain bowl). Others, like my longtime friend Heather, buy enough banh mì to ruin the structural integrity of a plastic bag. At the time, I didn’t get it, but I enjoyed listening to my friend’s Vietnamese pronunciation of the sandwich interrupt her otherwise perfect English. It could have been the influence of her love for the food itself, but the words “bánh” and ” mì” seemed cheerier, nearly an octave higher than her normal chatter, as they rolled off her salivating tongue. With a car full o’ bánh mì, we returned to the normally scheduled activities of my weekend visit.
Even though I shared the seat with that bag full of Vietnam’s classic sandwiches, I didn’t bother to sample one, not a single bite (not that Heather would have shared). If me of today met that version of me, I’d be soooo condescending. “You’re not even going to try that?” Then again, the me of today might plow through niceties, ignore the past me’s shock at time travel, dive into that busted bag of sandwiches and try to be cute through a full mouth “#sorrynotsorry.”
Me of today constantly craves my neighborhood cafe’s vegan version, teared up (i.e.: sobbed/choked) eating Pittsburgh’s famous one (those jalapeños will get you!), and in the interim, is constantly trying to channel the magic of pickled vegetables and spicy mayos.
In so many ways beyond adopting bánh mì habits, I have changed since that sandwich excursion. Yet, had you asked me then, I probably would have said I had hit some sort of stride, pushed myself, expanded myself and grown into me. My current self might eagerly say the same, but that’s just setting the groundwork for 40-year-old me to look back lovingly and laugh, “Oh you! You have no idea what is in store!”
Beyond food preferences changes and the willingness to dive into “exotic” samplings, it seems we humans are constantly evolving more than we admit. It’s an idea worth dissecting, especially when you consider how easy it is to write off humans based on past transgressions or current associations. We attach labels like “ex con,” “Republican,” or “Democrat” (said with equal levels of disgust depending on who is speaking).
This notion of fixed personalities is not only unforgiving, but it’s flawed. It’s a notion that stuck with me after listening to a recent episode of the podcast Invisibilia. In “The Personality Myth,” the co-hosts follow an inmate with a horrific record as he plans a TEDx conference in a prison. He speaks eloquently and poetically about feeling different, a new man down to his very DNA, all with a proper deference for the heinous acts he committed.
If a little thing like a pickled Vietnamese sandwich can shape so many aspects of my life, it’s worth talking about how second chances, good faith and human decency might have grand powers for bigger changes. We live in ugly times in need of beauty and connection, so hard boil some eggs, pickle some vegetables and put little delicate dill flowers on those eggs!
Then maybe take a real risk and reach out to a neighbor in need, or speak out on behalf of someone who needs a voice, or try to pay off some of society’s debts through good ol’ acts of kindness. In my case, I made these for the one I love the most, to celebrate how we have spent two years growing and changing together.
Bánh Mì Style Deviled Eggs
About This Recipe: Banh Mì actually refers to the bread used in the namesake sandwich, but these eggs borrow the pickled vegetables for a twist on deviled eggs. If you want a spicier/hotter pickle, keep the jalapeño seeds in the mix. For a more mild flavor (i.e.: a no-tears eating experience), skip or reduce the number of seeds in the mix. The pickle recipe yields more than you’ll need for the eggs, but I like to have the pickles on hand for toppings on sandwiches and grain bowls.