Cambodian sandwiches: another fantastic find

Dreams of pursuing a career in journalism are what brought me to New York, but it’s the food that’s keeping me here.

Plenty about this city has disillusioned me and frustrated me since I moved here, but the food? Never. This city’s eats have been my rock. I know that no matter how stressful my job gets, how quickly my paycheck disappears, or how freakishly close my bedroom walls seem to be to each other, I can go anywhere in the city and find something good to eat. And for someone who often seeks comfort in food, that’s a godsend.

Five spiced pork belly with pickled Asian pear

What amazes me about New York is the variety of food it offers and the places to find it. From five star restaurants with celebrity chefs and impossible reservation lists to the dodgy hole-in-the-wall places, there’s always something good. Just this week I ate somewhere that was so great and so unassuming that even though I had been griping all day about random things, everything was cleared from my head and all I could think of was, “God I love this city.” (Someone cue Jay-Z and Alicia Keys.)

My friend Vanessa, a consistent source for fun things in New York, suggested I try a little sandwich shop nearby called Num Pang. Cambodian sandwiches, she said, and I was sold. Though she didn’t come with, I did have my usual sidekick there with me, my adventurous-eater boyfriend.

I ‘d been warned the place was small but I was still surprised by how tiny it was: just a walk-up window, with a spiral staircase leading to a few seats and a stand-up bar. As we finished giving the guy our order, a group of people poured down the stairs, emptying the place out and leaving the whole seating area to just Flaneur and me. (Win.)

Grilled skirt steak with crushed coriander and peppercorn

A few minutes later, when our order was called, Flaneur ran downstairs to get our food. I clapped my hands together and rubbed them in excited preparation. These bad boys looked good.

Now, I’ve always been a little iffy about pork belly but ever since having it at Fatty Crab, I’ve become a fan. When I saw it listed with the specials, I had to have it. Plus, it came with pear, which happens to be my favorite fruit at the moment. The sandwich came on a pretty, mini baguette and was toasted to a nice crispiness so that every bite had that great, satisfying crunch of perfectly toasted bread. Inside, the pork belly was juicy and tender and paired nicely with the sweetness of the pickled pear. To add extra kick to the equation, there was zesty parsley, thin slices of cucumber, and a delicious spicy (but not too spicy) mayonnaise. If ever there was a prize for successfully mixing of colors, tastes and textures, this sandwich would get it.

Flaneur, meanwhile, was working on his sandwich of grilled skirt steak. Served on the same crunchy, warm baguette, his had large chunks of the crushed coriander and peppercorn covered steak jutting out from underneath the bread. More parsley, sliced cucumbers and shredded carrots complemented the meat.

Not your standard corn on the cob...

We finished our sandwiches, enjoying the last bits of it as we picked up stray crumbs and licked spicy mayo off our fingers. The grilled corn on the cob had been recommended so we got one to share. Vanessa had said it was really good but when we unwrapped it, I knew it would be better than expected. A bright yellow corn on the cob except for a few browned kernels from where it had almost been burned was covered in a thick coating of more spicy mayo,  chili powder and coconut flakes. It was loud and intense, both in appearance and taste. The creaminess of the mayo mixed in with the meatiness of the corn and the slight hint of sweetness from the coconut to make for a wildly delicious to our Cambodian dinner.

With Flaneur by my side, I walked home, full and happy, my mouth slightly tingling from all the chili mayo, and thought to myself, “Dammit New York, you won me over, all over again.”