Banh mi: The Vietnamese po' boy

Spontaneity is the quality of being able to do something just because you feel like it at the moment, of trusting your instincts, of taking yourself by surprise and snatching from the clutches of your well-organized routine a bit of unscheduled pleasure.

— Richard Iannelli  (Don’t ask me who he is; I have no idea, but I like the quote.)

 Enjoy every sandwich.

— Warren Zevon

The other day my brother Jeff came over to my apartment to help me out with some fix-it type chores.  Wait, no, he didn’t help — he did the chores while I watched (until I got bored).

Before launching in, we wanted a quick lunch, but I had nothing in the refrigerator, so I suggested nipping down the block to Henry’s for a couple of banh mi sandwiches.  Banh mi is like a Vietnamese po’ boy: a fresh demi-baguette filled with julienned pickled carrots, daikon radish, cucumber, cilantro, sliced jalapeño pepper, paté, mayonnaise, siracha sauce and various meat-like options, such as pork, grilled chicken, Vietnamese salami, sardines, tofu, etc.  It ranges in spiciness from not to very, depending on your personal preference (of course, I like it hot!).

IMHO, it is absolutely delicious.  I got hooked on banh mi last fall while doing a culinary walking tour of Chinatown, where there is good banh mi to be found.

So nip down the block we did, where we picked up a couple of banh mi sandwiches with grilled chicken.  Back at my place, we devoured them with a lovely Grüner Veltliner.

Well, I devoured mine.  Jeff only ate half of his and saved the other half, because he was full.  Which is totally understandable.  Half a banh mi sandwich is plenty for one person, and I should have followed Jeff’s example, but I got caught up in the enjoyment process and ate the whole thing.

The banh mi run was a spur-of-the-moment event, totally unplanned.  It just seemed like a brilliant idea at the time, especially since Jeff had never had banh mi and I was eager to initiate him.

I knew it was a splurge, and, indeed, I rarely treat myself to the succulent delicacy that is banh mi.  But I didn’t think it was that huge a splurge.  I mean, a sandwich.  With chicken.  How bad can that be?

Puh-lenty, as it turns out.

Later that day, as I was tallying my Weight Watchers points, I ran a Google search:  “What is the nutritional value of a banh mi sandwich?”

Too bad I didn’t do that earlier.  A whole sandwich has 596 calories, of which 170 are fat — that’s 19 grams!  Thirteen — yes, 13 — WW points!  Plus it’s loaded with sodium:  1,290 mg.

Now it’s possible that the nutritional breakdown I found was for a pork or salami sandwich, and my grilled chicken sandwich was a slightly lesser dietary offense.  But only slightly, at best.

The point here is that when you’re trying to lose weight, spontaneity can be expensive.  What seems like an innocent lark at the moment, you find — only too late — comes with a steep tab.  

This is difficult for me, as I’m someone who delights in spontaneity.  I love surprises; I love doing things that are unplanned.  I find it exciting.

Having to plan everything seems such a bore to me.  While some planning is necessary, after a while it gets tedious.

So I throw this out as a challenge.  How do we keep it fun while we’re trying to lose weight?  How do we maintain some element of spontaneity without wrecking our weight-loss efforts?

I’m open to suggestions.  But, in the meantime, I’ll stay away from the wonderful banh mi shop down the block and stick to sashimi for a splurge.

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Postscript:  It occurs to me that I did take a remediative step after my banh mi extravaganza.  Although I computed the cost of my spontaneity spree after the fact, I did so soon after the fact.  So dinner that night was a huge kitchen sink salad with canned tuna fish (packed in water), feta cheese and light dressing.  Total WW cost:  5 points. 

So that’s one possible solution:  Enjoy the moment, but figure out the tab right away so that you can offset the cost.  Good thing I like salads so much!

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