Urban hiking, bahn mi sandwiches

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Walk this way

Vietnamese bahn mi sandwich (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)

Hiking requires stamina, both physical and mental. So when Ann suggested an urban hike, I panicked. Ann has hiked the Himalayas; she's trekked the tundra. When Ann says hike, I say run.

Still, I agreed. Honestly, I wasn't sure what she meant by urban hike. Sprint the hills of San Francisco? Rappel that pyramid-shaped office tower? I hadn't packed boots or a carabiner or trail mix, just the usual: bad shoes and a good appetite.

We set off on a trail called 24th Street. After a quarter-mile or so, Ann slowed to a prowl. She stopped, pivoted and nabbed a grapefruit Campari doughnut. I bagged a lemon-glazed buttermilk.

We orienteered our way to a Vietnamese grocery known for its banh mi. The sandwiches came stuffed with pate, shrimp or barbecued pork, carrot or daikon or pickles. We stuck with simple: a little pork, a lot of cilantro. We set up camp on a curb and munched.

We made a steep climb, breaking to admire a chewy chocolate puck called friand. We descended, pausing for creamy cheese, meringue-topped cupcakes and salt caramels.

We trudged to the train and rode to Ann's in silence. Maybe she was planning her next urban expedition. I was still thinking about that banh mi. And about how much I like hiking.

Banh mi

Prep: 30 minutes, plus wait time
Cook: 4 minutes
Serves: 6

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce

3 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

3 scallions, white and tender green, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 (11/2 pound) pork tenderloin, sliced crosswise into ¼-inch-thick medallions

Mild oil, such as canola

2 baguettes, each cut into 3 6-inch lengths and split

3/4 cup mayonnaise

3 scallions, white and tender green, cut into matchsticks

1 small cucumber, cut into matchsticks

Leaves and tender stems from 1 bunch cilantro

Spicy sauce, such as sriracha

Lime wedges

Swirl:
In a blender, swirl fish sauce, sugar, soy, chopped scallions, garlic and pepper. Pour into a ziptop bag. Add pork. Chill 2 to 24 hours.

Sizzle:
Heat a thin film of oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add half the pork and sizzle deep brown, about 1 - 2 minutes per side. Repeat with remaining pork.

Build:
Hinge open each bread set. Spread each side with 1 tablespoon mayo. Pile on pork and vegetables. Add a squeeze of hot sauce and lime, if you like. Close, squish, munch.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune Newspapers special contributor. Email her at leahreskin@aol.com.

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