The humble banh mi has become a staple in the multicultural Australian diet. At any popular Vietnamese bakery, people from all walks of life can be seen ordering a baguette filled with their favourite condiments during the lunch rush hour.
Most commonly known as the ‘pork roll’ because of its traditional meaty fillings, the banh mi has evolved to include various condiments and ingredients. For Kenny Hak, owner of Kenny’s Pork Rolls, many of his favourite childhood memories include ordering from Cabramatta's famous banh mi shops in Western Sydney. “The pork rolls were only $2.50 back then and my favourite store was the one opposite the station on the left-hand side,” Hak says.
However, it was his mother's homemade version that inspired his desire to open a banh mi shop. “One day, my mum makes me one and tells me to eat it. I think to myself: no way this can be good … I was so wrong! I remember exactly that’s when my dream started and that’s when I knew what I wanted to do for the world – to make pork rolls.”
Achieving this wasn't easy, though. Hak experienced a tumultuous period in his youth, marred by gang-related activity and an unstable life at home. He escaped these troubles by focusing on more conventional goals. “When you’re young, that’s what you’re often taught – to go out and find a job that pays well and secure yourself a house. I did that and jumped at the first six-figure job offered to me," says Hak, who found a well-paid gig as a courier. "I was making more than I ever thought I would, and finally bought my house, but I wasn’t happy."
Years went by and popular pork roll shops began to materialise outside of Cabramatta, in suburbs such as Marrickville and Hurstville. Hak would often look at these stores and lament not pursuing his own. When his courier company got bought out by a Japanese business, Kenny saw this as the opportune moment to finally pursue his life-long dream.
“One day, my mum makes me one and tells me to eat it. I think to myself: no way this can be good … I was so wrong! I remember exactly that’s when my dream started and that’s when I knew what I wanted to do for the world – to make pork rolls.”
It still took him another five years to find the nerve to open Kenny's Pork Rolls – but it finally happened in June 2017. He now has a banh mi shop to call his own on a busy strip of Oxford Street in Darlinghurst.
You'll find several banh mi variations here: like Hak's signature crispy pork roll, his soft-shell crab flavour and his slow-cooked beef version. Having "trialled and errored" every recipe himself, he knew he could only do his rolls justice by using fresh ingredients and making everything from scratch
“I put love into everything I make here. It’s tiring and more costly, but the customers know it when they eat it. I want this place to be more than just a pork roll shop. I want this shop to be an inspiration to others who want to follow their dreams no matter what," he says. "People used to laugh at me for wanting to leave a good job and open a pork roll store, but I honestly couldn’t be happier.”
As the owner of Kenny's Pork Rolls, Hak also wants to help people who go hungry. “We have so much leftover meat at the end of the day and I knew exactly where it needed to go,” he says. “The community has given me so much in achieving my dreams, particularly during the pandemic, so this is the best way for me to give back."
He offers food to people sleeping rough in Martin Place and Parramatta – but sometimes just being there can make a difference. "Some people just want a chat," he says. "When I go out there and help those who really need it, it brings joy to my soul.”
Slow-cooked beef banh mi
For the slow-cooked beef filling
- 2 kg beef shoulder
- 1 tbsp tomato sauce
- 1 tbsp mustard sauce
- 2 tbsp sugar
- ½ tbsp salt
- ½ tbsp dried mixed herbs
- 1 tbsp ground cumin
- 100 g coriander stems
- 100 g chopped onion
- 250 ml barbecue sauce (Hak recommends Baby Ray’s Hickory & Brown Sugar barbecue sauce)
- 250 g egg yolks
- 500 ml vegetable oil
- 200 g carrot
- 200 g cabbage
- 100 g purple cabbage
- 500 ml mayonnaise
- 2 tbsp Sriracha chilli sauce
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
To assemble, per person
- 1 Vietnamese baguette roll (available at your local Vietnamese bakery)
- 2 tbsp mayonnaise
- 200 g slow-cooked beef
- 100 g coleslaw
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- Coriander leaves and stems (to taste), to garnish
- Chopped fresh chillies (optional)
1. Dice the beef shoulder into 200 g chunks (about 5cm-thick cubes) and place the chunks into a bowl.
2. Mix the beef and marinate it in tomato sauce, mustard sauce, sugar, salt, mixed herbs and ground cumin.
3. Add coriander stems and onions into the bowl and mix thoroughly.
4. Preheat the oven to 150ºC.
5. Place the marinated beef chunks in a tray and cover the top by tightly wrapping the tray in aluminium foil – make sure there are no air pockets or holes.
6. Slow-roast the tightly wrapped beef in the oven for 6–8 hours until completely tender.
7. Remove the tray from the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes. Remove beef from the foil packaging and begin pulling the meat apart into digestible strips with a fork and knife.
8. Mix barbecue sauce through the meat and put the mixture back into the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and keep warm until ready to serve.
9. To make the mayonnaise, add the egg yolks to a bowl in a mixing stand and turn on the mixer. Add vegetable oil slowly, as adding the oil too fast will cause the mixture to split. Keep adding until the mixture is completely emulsified and a thick consistency begins to form.
10. Scoop the mayonnaise into a container and keep cool until ready to serve.
11. To make the coleslaw, shred the carrot, white cabbage and purple cabbage into strips. Add the strips to a mixing bowl.
12. In a different bowl, mix the mayonnaise with the Sriracha chilli sauce and fish sauce. Stir until everything is well-mixed and there are no individual traces of the Sriracha or fish sauce. This will be the coleslaw dressing.
13. Add the dressing into the bowl filled with the shredded vegetables and mix until everything is well-coated in the dressing. Keep chilled until ready to serve.
14. To assemble the banh mi, preheat the oven to 200˚C for five minutes. Toast your baguette in the oven until the crust is hard but delicately crisp. This should only take a few minutes.
15. Cut your baguette roll in half, leaving one side of the roll uncut so the roll is still connected when opened.
16. Spread a dollop of mayonnaise over each side of the bread.
17. Spread an even layer of coleslaw on one side of the bread. Add fresh coriander leaves and their connected stems on top of the coleslaw.
18. Season the vegetables with a tablespoon of soy sauce.
19. Distribute the shredded slow-cooked beef evenly throughout the roll. The slow-cooked beef should take up half the roll's filling. Garnish with fresh chillies, if you prefer more heat.
Note: this recipe makes more barbecue filling and mayonnaise than needed for one serve of banh mi. You can store both ingredients in separate airtight containers for up to a week.
Xiu mai is a great example of a Vietnamese play on Chinese and French food influences. Meat dumplings (meatballs) are braised in a tomato sauce, then piled into a crispy banh mi with all the trimmings.
I remember my father used to make this for us on the weekends. He would fry all the eggs in one large frying pan, making sure the edges were crispy.
Its popularity in Vietnam is unparalleled, but the banh mi might be Australia's favourite sandwich, too. This roast pork version is absolutely delicious and if you've never made a banh mi yourself, it might be time to roll up your sleeves and get started. The roast pork makes more than you will need for this recipe but it definitely won't go to waste.