Banh Mi Sandwich - Vietnamese Meatball Sub

Several years ago, I had to go on a very restricted low-iodine diet to prep my body for some medical treatments. And a year later I had to repeat it (and most likely will have to do so again). It was definitely not my favorite time in the history of ever. Until then, I had no idea that so many foods contain iodine and therefore could not eat them. I basically subsisted on oatmeal with no salt and avocados for 14 days. Yummy, right?

My self-imposed therapy (or torture, depending on how you look at it) was to sit around talking about what I was going to eat after I was released from low-iodine prison. I was suuuuuper fun to be around.

And weird as it may be, the one thing I craved most of all was a sandwich. Not just any sandwich. No PB&J or wimpy meat and cheese sandwich thankyouverymuch. I wanted bread. Good bread. And thick, too, please. Loaded with succulent meat, bacon and garden fresh tomatoes. Lettuce? Sure, throw that on. And slather it righteously with some mustard and chipotle mayo. And don’t forget the chips. Crunchy, salty chips stuffed in between layers of sandwich might be one of my biggest guilty pleasures. I can remember vividly the first day I could eat normally again. Brian, wonderful man, made me the sandwich of my dreams. I can’t even remember what was on it but it was enormous and totally divine and I ate every crumb and licked my fingers and asked for another.

Banh Mi Sandwich - Vietnamese Meatball Sub

My love for really, really great sandwiches runs deep. To be able to eat anything after basically a 2-week fast and have it be a ridiculous sandwich craving…well, that speaks volumes (since I love food of all shapes and sizes and flavors).

And since this is the longest intro to a post ever (BFF’s if you’ve read this far), let me just say that had I known about this Banh Mi sandwich all those years ago, you better believe it would have been my liberating request after the diet of doom. I have gushed over several sandwiches on this blog, but this Vietnamese meatball sub is one of my very favorites. They are very similar in flavor profile to the wraps I couldn’t stop talking about all last January – except the subs have meatballs (obvs) and some minor variances in ingredients.

The result is still very magical. Beautiful, thick bread stuffed with meatballs bursting with Asian flavors and smothered in a creamy, spicy sauce with the delightful crunch of quick-pickled veggies. Oh my goodness, will you just make these already? I am not kidding. Best.Sandwich.Ever. Don’t let the name or ingredients or prep (most of it can be done in advance) or uniqueness scare you off. It is pure love in sandwich form.

Banh Mi Sandwich - Vietnamese Meatball Sub

One Year Ago: Slow Cooker White Bean Chicken Chili
Two Years Ago: Hearty Chicken Gnocchi Soup
Three Years Ago: Texas-Style Blueberry Cobbler

Easy Banh Mi Sandwiches {Vietnamese Meatball Sub}

Yield: Serves 4-6

Easy Banh Mi Sandwiches {Vietnamese Meatball Sub}

For the creamy dressing, use the sriracha sauce if you like things spicy. I've made the sandwiches both ways and while I enjoy the heat, my kids don't as much, so I usually use the sweet Thai chili sauce which still has a kick to it but also has a bit of sweetness.

Fish sauce tends to scare some people but don't be; it adds great flavor. If you don't have it or prefer not to use it, consider adding a bit of soy sauce and increasing the salt if needed (fish sauce packs a salty punch).

The traditional bread vehicle for a Banh Mi is a crusty-type baguette. I go the unauthentic route and stuff all the goodness inside fluffy homemade bread (baked into the shape of longer hoagie buns instead of dinner rolls).


    Spicy Dressing:
  • 2/3 cup mayonnaise or plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce (like sriracha) or sweet Thai chili sauce (see note above)
  • 1 green onion, white and green parts finely chopped
  • Relish:
  • 2 large carrots, coarsely grated or cut into thin matchsticks
  • 1 English cucumber, coarsely grated or cut into thin matchsticks
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • Meatballs:
  • 2 pounds ground pork, ground turkey or a combination
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil or 2 teaspoons dried
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce (see note above)
  • 1 tablespoon hot chili sauce or sweet Thai chili sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1-2 teaspoons sesame or vegetable or coconut oil, for browning
  • Sandwiches:
  • 4 to 6 (6-inch) baguettes or hoagie buns (I use this recipe to make my own)
  • Bunch of fresh cilantro


  1. In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the dressing. Cover and refrigerate. This can be made several days in advance.
  2. For the relish, toss together the carrots and cucumber. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, vinegar, salt and sesame oil. Pour over the vegetables. Cover and refrigerate. The relish can be made a day or so in advance.
  3. For the meatballs, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine the ground pork (or turkey), basil, garlic, green onions, fish sauce, hot sauce, sugar, cornstarch, salt and pepper. Scoop the mixture into 1- to 2-inch meatballs. Heat the sesame oil (or other oil, if using) in a large 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot and rippling. Add the meatballs in a single layer and brown on all sides.
  4. Transfer the browned meatballs to a foil-lined baking sheet and repeat with remaining meatballs (adding additional oil if necessary). Bake the meatballs for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven (I like to place the cooked meatballs one by one on a layer of paper towels to absorb any excess grease).
  5. To assemble the sandwiches, slice the buns or baguettes in half. Spread the dressing on the top half of the bread. Layer cilantro to taste on the bottom half. Place 3 or so meatballs (will depend on how big you made them) on top of the cilantro. Drain the relish and place a heaping spoonful on top of the meatballs. Press on the sandwich top and devour.

Recipe Source: adapted from this recipe at Bon Appetit (after a reader, Sarah, sent it to me)

62 Responses to Easy Banh Mi Sandwiches {Vietnamese Meatball Sub – My Favorite Sandwich Ever}

  1. Valerie says:

    We made this tonight, and it was delicious! I omitted the sugar, but we all still loved it. Thanks for another great recipe!

  2. Kris says:

    Absolutely love this sandwhich and so does my family! Having this tonight…again!

  3. Rachel Russell says:

    Wow- these were FANTASTIC!
    Kids were nervous about relish veggies at first but devoured this sandwich after the first bite – thanks Mel!!

  4. Jamie says:

    These were fantastic! I made them on dinner rolls and flattened the meatballs into patties and made sliders. I can’t wait for leftovers. So, so yummy!

  5. Rita says:

    I made these tonight and they were fabulous! My only challenge was that my meatballs didn’t want to hold together as I browned them. Any suggestions?

  6. Shelby says:

    Um my hubby is well aware of who “Mel” is! And he knew this one was one of yours when he tasted it. I almost only ever cook your family friendly food these days. Thanks SO much!! These were a hit over your fluffy hoagies–and whole wheat too! My 3 year old ate 2 meatballs even!! And that’s saying a lot for her!!

  7. Jennifer says:

    How many ounces of dough do you use to make your hoagies? Can’t wait to have these tonight!

  8. kristin says:

    Should the ground turkey be white or dark meat? Looking forward to making it!

  9. Amanda Z says:

    What a delicious meal!!!!! I have had this printed out to try for a long time, but kept putting it off thinking it would be a longer one to make. I took your advice and made the sauce and relish ahead of time, so I just had the meatballs to make, which were pretty quick and simple. Everything about this, was delicious, spicy sauce, the crunch and tang of the relish with delicious savory meatballs! I always get my best recipes from you Mel, my husband always knows when I make a great recipe that I have been looking on your website! Thanks for another great one!

  10. Rebecca says:

    WOW, Mel. Just wow. So so delicious (AND easy). These were a huge hit. I made your italian ciabatta-ish rolls to go with when we had them for dinner last night, but then I started thinking, how hard could baguette be, really? A quick visit to KAF after dinner last night and we had the leftovers for lunch on homemade baguette. I used the “Classic and Stuffed” recipe on their site (that calls for bread flour) and it was surprisingly delicious and authentic-ish. Thanks again for another great dinner!

  11. Jocelyn says:

    This is a fabulous recipe! My family loved them.


  12. Shayla B. says:

    Holy WOW. These were fantastic. The combination of flavors!!! The textures!!! The versatility!!! And they are very filling. Thank you for this fabulous recipe. We will make it again and again!

  13. melanie b says:

    Wow! I can’t even begin to tell you how delicious these were. I could eat them every day. Maybe it’s time for a new category on your blog called “life-changing recipes” or “You Must Make This”. Seriously. My life will never be the same. I regret all the time I wasted not making these the second you posted them. Thanks for changing my world! 🙂

  14. Roberta Schroeder says:

    Made ‘um. Ate ‘um. GONE! A winner for sure. Making meatballs, relish and spread a day ahead worked great. I used a “take and bake” good quality ciabatta from our grocery instead of rolls the day we ate ‘um. Otherwise, followed recipe exactly. We like spicy so ended up using extra Sriracha on side. Added more to spread. Tried mixed with sweet chili sauce-also totally yum. Added about 1T of leftover fresh basil I had on day two to the spread to see how that tasted. Nom. Nom. When we ran out of slaw-but still had meatballs-I had no carrots so improvised using some cucumber and part of bag of broccoli-slaw I had hanging around with your dressing recipe. Very tasty. Thanks again for the great inspiration, Mel!!

  15. Liz says:

    Holy cow!!! – made this for my yesterday’s supper and YOWZA – so good! I did have it on a crusty roll and next time will do as you suggest and have it on a soft roll. Still, the flavor profile is wonderful – thank you!

  16. Amy C. says:

    Had this tonight and it was so delicious. I accidentally forgot the basil in the meatballs but they were still so good. My four year old loved the sandwich, but he especially loved the carrots and cucumbers that went on top. He had an extra helping of those after he finished his sandwich. Thumbs up from our family!

  17. Cristina says:

    We had this for dinner today. So very good! I served it with a side salad with carrot ginger dressing. I took a tip from one of the other comments and skipped the pan browning step, and put the meatballs on a broiler pan (so fat could drip away) and temp at 500. After about 17 min they were browned and done. (I also set off the smoke detector, oops. The oil that had dripped off began to smoke. But since I lined the pan with foil…easy clean up. 🙂

  18. Megan lemon says:

    mel! I think I have a little problem… I could eat these for every meal. We tried them tonight and they were a huge hit! My new fav from your site. Thanks so much for all your recipes 🙂

  19. Julie says:

    Hi Mel, This looked so good. When I have made your recipes in the past I have never hesitated to follow the directions. I made these over the weekend and had all the ingredients except fish sauce, which I have never used before. I had to hunt through the shelf in the grocery store but finally found it. When I was putting the ingredients together, I opened the bottle, took a whiff, and said, “I can’t put this in food!” I have read through the comments and it sounds like only one reader shared my concern. Can you reassure me on this? It’s in the fridge. I will definitely make these sandwiches again — my husband loved this! But I’m afraid of the bottle of fish sauce lurking in my fridge. In fact, I’m terrified.

    • Mel says:

      Hey Julie – yep, I’m going to ask for your complete trust on this one. Years ago when I first used fish sauce in an egg roll recipe, I thought I was going to die and thought for sure my bottle of it was spoiled. I immediately went online and was surprised there weren’t websites dedicated to the odor. Apparently, I just needed to get over it because since then, I use it in many, many recipes and it adds a wonderful depth of flavor. Having said that, I try not to breathe in to abruptly while using because the smell has not grown on me all that much. If it is a terrible turn off for you, start by using half what the recipe calls for. And be sure to report back. 🙂

  20. Tanya H. says:

    I’m heading back to that diet again soon, but hoping to be better prepared food wise this time. In the meantime, I made these delicious sandwiches — so good! I have trouble eating bread sometimes, but the meatballs, relish and sauce were just as yummy in a bowl. Next time, and there will be a next time, I think I’ll form the meat into patties, which will be easier for the kids to eat in a sandwich.

  21. Andria says:

    We made these last night for dinner. We ended up using ground beef because that’s what I had on hand. They were so tasty!! Next time I’m definitely using pork. The ground beef was good though — all three of my boys and my husband loved it. I’m thinking that’s why this website is such a hit around here. I have three boys and one on the way, so you seem to know what a bunch of little boys will eat.


  22. Adrienne K says:

    I made this for my family this week and it was a huge hit! I used half Turkey breast and half pork for the meatballs. Next time I will use less garlic, I definitely over did it. I loved the cucumber quick pickles, I think its nice to cut the cucumber in very thin slices instead of shredding or julienne. I served this with the Asian Noodle Salad and I used rolls from Costco. Thanks for a great recipe! This will be another Classic.

  23. Robin says:

    This sandwich was very good. I have never tasted it before. The meatballs seem like they could be used in other meals also.

  24. Cammee says:

    These were sooooooo good! Here’s to hoping and praying you are over the non-iodine part of life.

  25. Andrea says:

    Loved it. Baby loved it. Missionaries loved it. The only hiccup I had was with the cooking time for the whole wheat hoagies. I think I ended up cooking them for 22 minutes but they ended up perfect. Oh my heck these Vietnamese sandwiches were good. Thanks!

  26. cvb says:

    Thank you so much for this recipe! We made it today and it was great 🙂

  27. Sheila says:

    Super yummy and so delicious! We just had these for dinner and they are now a favorite. I made the mistake of smelling the fish sauce (never had before) and almost lost my lunch. 🙁 For the next 45 minutes, I had to keep repeating to myself, “Remember this is Mel’s recipe, keep going and don’t think about the fish sauce.” I’m going to cut down just a tad the sesame oil in the relish. This was also a new taste for us. Hubby thought is was just right but it was a little too strong for me. Mel, you are so wonderful and thank you, once again, for such a fantastic recipe. Oh, and I used the sweet Thai chili sauce and was so happy to have another recipe using this yummy sauce.

    Question: Do you know how long fish sauce will keep refrigerated? I think of fish and think of the 3 day rule — both company and fish stink after 3 days.

    • Mel says:

      Hi Sheila – so glad you liked these! I always love seeing your comments pop up. I’m glad you found ways to make them more suited for your family’s taste buds. That’s half the fun/challenge of cooking! As for fish sauce, it’s not like fresh fish (and I hear you, girl, the smell is nauseating!)…it will keep in the fridge for months (let’s not dwell on whether or not that’s a good thing). Despite the weirdness, it really is a good ingredient to keep on hand.

  28. Heather says:

    Ummm, these look different and amazing and I want them. Stupid question though–do you think it would mess up the flavor too much if I used ground beef instead? Ground pork and ground turkey kind of freak me out.

    • Mel says:

      Haven’t tried them with ground beef but you could experiment – the texture of the meatballs won’t be quite as light but if that’s what you prefer, I’d say go ahead and use it.

  29. Julianne says:

    OK so I was planning to make a different kind of meatball/rice tonight, but saw this and decided to make these meatballs, the relish and dressing, and serve it all over the brown rice I had already prepared. IT WAS FANTASTIC. I used ground turkey, and since I didn’t have fish sauce (which is a shame!), I used half hoisin, half soy sauce for that part. I did a combo of Greek yogurt and mayo for the dressing. That relish really makes the meal shine. But even the 3 y.o. ate all her meatballs (I made mine with a teaspoon scoop) and asked for more. And that is awesome.

    Thanks Melanie! You are the hero of the night (again).

  30. Casey C says:

    I know the low iodine diet too. I had to do it for 6 weeks. Ugh! My first meal after was my moms roast beef, mashed potatoes, and rolls. Everything tasted soooooooo good!

  31. OK, I have to comment in solidarity with you for the low-iodine diet. My husband was on this when he had thyroid cancer. I bought salt without iodide, and we made homemade bread for him. Not a fun diet though. I can only imagine how happy you were to eat these sandwiches afterward. I want to try them, but might have to order the fish sauce online. I haven’t found it anywhere in my grocery store, even by the Asian foods.

  32. OMG! When you have a craving, watch out! What a off the Richter Scale this sandwich is. Truly wonderful.

  33. Carrie L says:

    We had these for dinner tonight. Crazy.Good. Mark this down as my favorite sandwich as well. Thanks Mel for yet another family favorite!
    One note – I have young kiddos, not leaving me much time for pan frying, so I baked the oh-so-yummy meatballs at 500F for 20 minutes in lieu of browning. Turned out perfect.

  34. Megangrant says:

    Oh I totally know the low iodine diet torture. 🙁 You never know who else has been down that road, huh? Small world. On a brighter note, this sandwich looks fantastic and I can’t wait to try it!!

  35. What a great twist on a regular ol’ meatball sub! This looks amazing. I can’t wait to try it!

  36. judi says:

    Hey I know that iodine free diet very well! Hope you don’t have to do it for too long.
    This sandwich sounds fantastic and now that we’re going into the cooler months, what could be better than soup and a great sandwich!

  37. Sheree L says:

    If I wanted to make the meatballs earlier in the day & reheat them, would they still taste amazing? I’m not a big meatball maker, so please excuse the dumb question!

    • Mel says:

      Yes, Sheree – that would work great! The meatballs could be made in advance and reheated; great idea to save time.

      • Sheree L says:

        Thanks, Mel. I did make the meatballs ahead of time and it worked great. Very yummy sandwich. I subbed soy sauce for the fish sauce, had to use dried basil and oregano (I was almost out of basil!), cut down the sugar (my hubby has a thing about sweet meat), and used chili garlic sauce in place of sweet Thai chili sauce. Thanks for another great recipe!

  38. Emily says:

    So I never comment, but I had to tell you I had my first Bahn Mi sandwich at an awesome restaurant in SLC that you would love. It was featured on Diners Driveins and Dives. So next time you’re in the area, check them out and satisfy that Bahn Mi sandwich craving in a BIG way (and the prices are unbelievably cheap, I don’t know how they do it!). It’s called Oh Mai Sandwich I’m craving it now!

    They have a few locations and I love it! I always get the S2, so good!

  39. GG says:

    Annnnnnnnnd that’s yet another thing to go on my already super-long list of ‘Things-I-want-to-make-from-Mel’s-wonderful-blog’! Drooling all over my keyboard.

  40. susan says:

    If you’re a banh mi lover, then I highly suggest Andrea Nguyen’s The Banh Mi Handbook:
    Its allowed me to make the best banh mi I’ve ever had! (Her dumpling book is also superb if you fancy Asian dumplings too.)

  41. Michele says:

    Hi Mel, this sandwich sounds yummy!! If I wanted to serve them as a main dish for dinner, what kind of side dish would you recommend? My family isn’t big on potato chips and junk style stuff for dinner. We like the wholesome things.

    • Mel says:

      These sandwiches are pretty hearty and filling so whenever I serve them, I keep it VERY simple with a plate of fresh vegetables (sometimes with homemade ranch, sometimes not) and another plate of fresh fruit. If you wanted to get a little fancier, an Asian noodle salad would compliment them well, too, like this one:

  42. Caitlin says:

    Oh man. I just flopped down on my bed in my hotel in Vietnam and opened my feedly to find this! How serendipitous. 🙂 I’ll have to try a banh mi sandwich while I’m here, secure in the knowledge that I can make my own as soon I get home.

  43. cathie says:

    I’m starting my second time on the diet in 2 weeks. The first time I lost all sense of taste for a month afterwards. Did you experience any lost of taste?

    • Mel says:

      Cathie – sorry to hear that! I haven’t experienced the loss of taste on the low-iodine diet (although I did have that happen when I went through the I-131 radiation treatment – thankfully it came back after a few months). Good luck!

      • cathie says:

        Oh geez! Thats what I meant (after the I 131) Hopefully it won”t happen this time around. I’m definitely going to try this sandwich before I start the diet. Love your blog, great recipes and adorable kids. Two of my favorite things 😀

  44. lisa Clawson says:

    Yum! I’m going to make it for dinner this week! I shall return and report:)

  45. Susanj says:

    I love vietnamese sandwiches, I can’t wait to try making them myself. they look delicious.

  46. jennifer says:

    I know all too well how awful the LID diet is. Hope they got it all this time and you never have to repeat it. Thanks for the great recipe.

  47. Kim in MD says:

    Oh my gosh, Mel! How do you always seem to know what I am craving? I have been looking at recipes for Banh Mi sandwiches and couldn’t decide which one to try first. Now I know…yours! 🙂 That said, the no iodine diet does not sound like fun at all, as I’m sure the tests that followed the restricted two week diet weren’t either. I’m praying you won’t have to do it again anytime soon!

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