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One-Dollar Wonder

Christopher Gardner

Paying a Mouthful: A bit of spare change can fill a face at many local Vietnamese sandwich shops.

A loaf of bread, a bite of meat--and wow

By Andrew X. Pham

IF THE FRENCH COLONIAL POWER left one lasting legacy in Vietnam, it was the bread. Since they vanquished the French, Vietnamese have continued baking and eating baby baguettes. Today, in Vietnam, the loaves go for about 10 cents in U.S. money. Sandwich kiosks stuff them with goodies and mark them up to 30 cents each. Schoolchildren, adults, merchants and beggars alike all regularly chomp on these subs, the Vietnamese equivalent of the American hamburger and hot dog combined.

In fact, Vietnamese subs have made a beachhead in the South Bay. They cost more on these shores, but they'll abate hunger for less than a cup of coffee. Vietnamese subs are the one-dollar wonders.

How do they taste? Well, let's inventory what gets loaded into the sub. Foremost, the opened baguette is slathered with either mayonnaise or butter (customer's choice). Then it is jammed with fresh cucumber, onion, cilantro, pickled daikon, pickled carrot and sliced hot pepper. The four popular meat fillings are chicken, Vietnamese bologna, barbecue pork and cured ham, which is accompanied by pâté. (Another popular choice, the Chinese meatball, should be avoided because it is extremely fatty with little real meat.) What really gives the kick is the sauce, a mixture of vinegar and soy sauce.

One place offers a special deal with caffeine included: At Moulin Rouge Coffee (20700 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino, 408/253-4620), $2 buys a Vietnamese sub and a cup of java. These hoagies are suitable for the novice because the hot pepper and sauce are omitted. This place is about as far north in the valley as a hungry Joe can go to get a Vietnamese fast-food meal for spare change.

Elsewhere throughout San Jose, Milpitas, Fremont, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara, Vietnamese delis are commonplace. A popular $1 deal spot in downtown San Jose is Thanh Huong (58 S. Fourth St., 408/277-0170). This Vietnamese deli (takeout only) built its name on its large selection of sandwiches. During lunch hours, patrons crowd the narrow shop and half a dozen sandwich makers turn the counter into one frantic assembly line.

Another worthwhile place to visit is Que Huong in south San Jose (2549 S. King Road, #1, San Jose, 408/532-1190). The sandwiches ($1, $1.50 for grilled pork or chicken) are decent, not as spicy as Thanh Huong's, but they have good Vietnamese desserts made with coconuts, tapioca, banana and yam ($1.50/cup). For those who don't mind steam-table food, this kitchen offers an array of 20 choices, predominantly home-style cooking (the quality and prices are moderate). As with any place that serves precooked food, the best time to visit is when the grub is first prepared. At this diner, that's the early lunch hour.

Someday, not too far in the future, Vietnamese hoagies might give the Whopper and the Big Mac a serious run for the dollar.

Send tips to [email protected] or call 408/298-8000, ext. 441.

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From the May 22-28, 1997 issue of Metro

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