21 E 12th St
(between 5th Ave & University Pl)
New York, NY 10003
That thing up there looks like a banh mi, tastes kind of like a banh mi, but isn’t a banh mi. Banh Mis are Vietnamese sandwiches that I often get because they taste so damn good and are so damn cheap (see Banh Mi Saigon). Num Pang is a Cambodian sandwich shop that sells Cambodian sandwiches (duh), which include all the traditional banh mi ingredients such as cucumbers, pickled carrots, cilantro, and baguette. Cambodia and Vietnam are neighbors so it makes sense that there would be similar foods but what exactly is the difference? Both Num Pang and Banh Mi mean “bread” in their respective languages. I googled “Cambodian sandwich” and “Banh Mi vs. Cambodian Sandwich” and “Num Pang” and all the possible combinations in between and could not find anything to help me clearly draw the line between the two types of sandwiches. Other than the fact that Num Pang sandwiches ($8.00) are on average priced double what banh mis ($4.00) are normally priced at, I can’t seem to figure it out. Anyone able to help me differentiate?
Ah, whatever. Onto the food! Pictured here is the Five-Spice Glazed Pork Belly sandwich. It is one of their “seasonal” specials so I suggest you go and grab one soon before they rotate to something else! If you like pork, especially tasty fatty pork, I can’t imagine you would feel anything else other than pure love for this sandwich. The pork belly was tender, juicy, and almost a little crispy on the edges from the glaze. Like all great pork dishes, it tasted slightly sweet. This flavor was heightened from the sweet and slightly tart slice of Asian pear that came with the sandwich. Yes, the sandwich is overall a bit small as the bread only measures about half a foot. Though you end up getting about half a foot of pork belly, making the bread to substance ratio 1:1. The bread is also from Parisi Bakery, meaning it was super high quality. It made that amazing crunch sound that good bread makes after each bite.
Just look at how perfectly toasted that bread is. This is the Coconut Tiger Shrimp sandwich, one of their most highly rated ones according to Yelpers.
Unlike the Five-Spice Pork Belly one, this sandwich is simpler as it includes just 4 tiger shrimps slathered in chili mayo sauce and coconut flakes, plus the usual condiments. Simpler, of course, doesn’t mean worse. I’m glad that I had both sandwiches to munch on (I shared with LAW okay? Gosh.) because the tiger shrimp sandwich provided a very clean flavor, a nice balance with the flavor intensive pork belly. The shrimp was very fresh and had that naturally sweet taste of good seafood.
So yes, Num Pang is delicious and certainly offers very high quality ingredients in their sandwiches. Is it worth double the price of an amazing banh mi from Banh Mi Saigon? Ehhhh this is a tough one because Num Pang has so many more unique flavor combinations (roasted cauliflower and thai eggplant spread?) while Banh Mi Saigon offers straight up good classic banh mis. Num Pang has been featured on all the right blogs and magazines and even had celebrity chef Mario Batali create a “signature sandwich” for them. This is completely unfair but because of this, I am partial to Banh Mi Saigon because the place is a family-run business and it’s just great to see a place succeed with cheesy decor and florescent lighting.
The sandwiches are also much larger at Banh Mi Saigon.