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A Vietnamese Immigrant Wants to Bring Great Banh Mi to Berkeley

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Nom Nom Bánh Mì will be laser-focused on the traditional sandwiches

Nom Nom Bánh Mì [Official Photo]

Ever since she first moved from Vietnam to the United States in 1989, Trâm Dyck has dreamt of opening a banh mi shop. This spring, she’ll finally make that dream a reality with the debut of Nom Nom Bánh Mì in Berkeley.

Dyck has sampled the Vietnamese sandwiches all over the Bay Area and has yet to find one that lives up to her memories.

“When we live in Vietnam, we take it for granted. And when we go abroad, we say, ‘That’s not banh mi,’” she says. “It’s hard to find a good one around here. Either the bread is not right or the meat is not fresh. It doesn’t have to be really, really cheap and compromise the taste.”

Nom Nom Bánh Mì occupies an 800-square-foot space at 2491 Telegraph Avenue, a former T-shirt shop just south of UC Berkeley. Building out a kitchen and going through the permitting process has been long and frustrating for Dyck, but she hopes she can get the restaurant open in two or three months. The 14-seat, contemporary shop — decorated with artwork depicting both Vietnam and Berkeley — will only serve banh mi, Vietnamese-style lemonade, Vietnamese iced coffee, and iced green tea sweetened with lychee.

Dyck expects to offer nine variations on the classic sandwich, including Saigon-style chả (silky pork roll), pâté, roasted pork, grilled chicken, lemongrass beef, and sardines in a tangy tomato sauce — the last one is a personal favorite from childhood. Vegetarians can opt for a savory cheese banh mi, filled with Laughing Cow just like in Vietnam, or the vegan tofu with soy mayo. Each sandwich will go for $7-$9 — a heftier price tag than some spots that still manage to serve banh mi for less than $4, but Dyck says she’s using higher quality ingredients.

And unlike a lot of Bay Area banh mi spots, Nom Nom won’t also serve spring rolls, desserts, smoothies, and other dishes.

“I know what I’m good at and I want to focus on one thing,” says Dyck.

Too often, she says, local banh mi shops overly toast their bread to mask a subpar texture. While Dyck won’t make Nom Nom’s baguettes in-house, she managed to find a Vietnamese wholesale bakery that meets her high standards.

“When you bite into it, it has a slight crunch and your teeth sink into that soft, warm, chewy texture of the bread, and then bite a little deeper and you hit the crunch of the pickled daikon and carrots and pâté and meat oozing into your mouth — that’s the ideal, that’s what I’m aiming for,” she says. “All of sudden, your mouth just says, ‘Hello, good morning!’”

Stay tuned for more details when it opens later this spring.

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