Banh Mi Spot began as Banh Mi Saigon, a tiny store front in a strip mall, and made a name for itself selling amazing banh mi sandwiches and Pho. The original location tragically burned down in a huge fire that wiped out the entire strip mall. The family that owned it re-grouped and opened up a larger restaurant in Northampton, but I don’t think they really recaptured the mojo that made the original spot great. Since re-opening a couple of years ago, they have had several menu re-vamps and a name change. I like their summer rolls a lot and they have a good pork banh mi. They recently started serving home made pork bao.
Tran’s World Food Market is a pan-Asian and South American grocery store that recently started selling home made pork bao. The matriarch of the family that owns the store makes the bao each morning before the store opens and they sell out before lunch time. Some regulars come in once a week and buy a dozen. Tran’s is a grocery store and so there is no place to sit and eat the bao, it is strictly bao to-go.
Both places make large fist sized bao with Banh Mi Spot’s being more classically shaped than those from Tran’s which, shall we say, are more rustically formed. Banh Mi Spot’s bao are filled with a soft boiled quail egg, ground pork, a piece of sausage, jicama, mushroom and carrots. Similarly, Tran’s bao are filled with half of a hard boiled egg, seasoned ground pork, a piece of Chinese sausage, Shiitaki mushrooms, onion, shallot, garlic, jicama and cabbage.
The bao from Tran’s are the hands down winner here, the bun is slightly fluffy and sweet, and the Chinese sausage brings sweet, savory and spicy flavors. There are lots of vegetables mixed into the well seasoned pork which gives the filling a slight crunch texture. Tran’s bao are delicious.
Banh Mi Spot’s bao have a lot less flavor and the sausage tastes like a regular American pork sausage. The soft boiled quail egg was a nice feature because once I bit into the egg, the yoke spilled out and added flavor to the filling. My biggest issue with the bao I got at Banh Mi Spot was that either the pork or the sausage was of low quality, twice I got a piece of gristle that I had to spit out.
Bao Battle Winner: Tran’s World Market.