There really is such a thing as the “banh mi effect,” where sandwich success follows the example of the Vietnamese favorite. Its translation, and then creative adaptation on American menus, prove that if a global profile is delicious and relatable, it can find a welcome home here. (In fact, two creative takes on the banh mi follow.)
What other global profiles offer opportunity today? From Mexican tortas to Indian flatbreads, there are a number of pathways to inviting sandwich builds.
And it’s not just about replication; the modern American approach of the mash-up works particularly well, relying on the familiarity of the format while exploring global flavor combinations.
We tapped a handful of commodity boards to share their best versions of globally inspired sandwich builds, ready for menu adoption.
Bulgogi Marinated Cheesesteak
The great American cheesesteak never goes out of style. But that doesn’t mean patrons won’t welcome a flavorful update.
In his popular Bulgogi Marinated Cheesesteak (pictured above), Andrew Bachelier, executive chef at Campfire Restaurant in Carlsbad, Calif., gives the beloved sandwich a contemporary Korean twist by marinating tender Kobe beef in a classic sweet-savory-spicy bulgogi marinade.
The grilled meat is piled on a baguette with sautéed mushrooms and California Oaxaca cheese. A mild, firm white cheese with a sweet milk flavor and slight saltiness, Oaxaca melts a lot like mozzarella, making it ideal for cheesesteak applications.
“It’s the kind of ingredient an operator can call out in a menu description to differentiate and add on-trend global flavor appeal that can command more premium pricing,” says Jennifer Giambroni, director of communications for the California Milk Advisory Board.
Add a scrambled or fried egg to create a breakfast sandwich, change the marinade, or build into a bowl format—the beauty of the sandwich is in its limitless customization.
“Sandwiches are a familiar foundation to use as a point of entry for introducing customers to global flavors. The bread, the handheld convenience, and the satisfaction factor give operators permission to switch up what’s inside and include ingredients, flavors and preparations from trending cuisines,” she adds, noting that cheese can be the bridge linking new flavors to the familiarity of the sandwich format.
Get the recipe for Bulgogi Marinated Cheesesteak with Oaxaca Cheese
Pambazo Idaho Potatoes Sandwich
The pambazo has been making its way into the spotlight in recent years, showcasing bold and traditional Mexican flavors in an approachable and delectable format. Traditionally loaded with potatoes and chorizo, this dipped potato-based sandwich is authentic to Mexico.
This particular Pambazo Idaho Potatoes Sandwich, developed by food blogger Kita Roberts, is built with halved biscuits tossed in a savory guajillo chile sauce, then spread with refried beans.
Diced Idaho potatoes are combined with savory crumbled chorizo to provide a flavorful filling and then topped with pickled red onion and Cotija cheese.
“The flavors in this sandwich are leading-edge and speak to consumer interest in global flavors, and could be easily changed with an Asian spin or a regional American spin,” says David Woolley, consulting chef for the Idaho Potato Commission.
“There are no daypart limitations for this sandwich. For example, it could move into breakfast by adding an egg; the egg could also be hard-cooked and sliced. This sandwich could also move seamlessly to a plant-based offering with vegan chorizo.”
Get the recipe for Pambazo Idaho Potatoes Sandwich
Wild Alaska Salmon Banh Mi
In a pescatarian-friendly take on the traditional banh mi, Eric Floyd, executive chef at the Washington Athletic Club in Seattle, features grilled salmon in this Wild Alaska Salmon Banh Mi.
Here, the crispy French baguette is first buttered for a bit of creaminess, then topped with the salmon, pickled carrots and daikon, crisp cucumber slices, crushed peanuts and jalapeño slices. Cilantro and lettuce add fresh flavors, and a squeeze of lime and Sriracha finish off the full-flavored sandwich.
“This is a window into Vietnamese cuisine that is not too exotic but still introduces unfamiliar palates to a wonderful ethnic taste experience,” says Floyd.
This recipe could be swapped into a banh mi bowl or salad format, or a banh mi omelette or scramble, taking the flavor build into other dayparts or menu sections. Additionally, canned salmon could be a great alternative in this sandwich.
Get the recipe for Wild Alaska Salmon Banh Mi
Tex-Mex Steak Torta
Street food can be credited for driving a lot of the innovation in sandwich flavors and combinations on menus today.
“Food trucks continue to spread international flavors and sandwiches to consumers who may not have tried anything beyond a Philly cheesesteak,” says Laura Hagen, senior director of culinary innovations for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff.
This Tex-Mex Steak Torta features grilled salsa-marinated skirt steak and grilled bell peppers and onions, all anchored by a classic refried bean spread—traditional in some Mexican tortas. A salsa and ancho chile mayonnaise further elevates the flavors in this hearty sandwich.
“Often the sandwich section on a menu looks pretty similar from restaurant to restaurant,” says Hagen, noting the need for innovation.
“Consumers love quick, handheld lunch options and are more willing than ever to try new flavors in a familiar package.”
Get the recipe for Tex-Mex Steak Torta
Spanish-style Striped Bass Sandwich with Walnut Harissa
Bold Mediterranean flavors star in this Spanish-style Striped Bass Sandwich with Walnut Harissa—a piquant California walnut spread that sets it apart.
Harissa, a vibrant chile paste from Tunisia, is traditionally paired with meats like lamb and beef. Here, the sauce is prepared with a variety of chiles, roasted red pepper, garlic and a combination of spices—along with the surprising addition of walnuts. Mellowed with Greek yogurt, the harissa spread is flavorful and colorful.
For the sandwich build, fennel seed and red pepper-seasoned striped bass fillets are layered over the spread and topped with a fennel and arugula salad, along with fresh cucumber slices.
“California walnut harissa is versatile, and translates extremely well to other sandwiches, grilled meats and vegetables,” says Juliet Greene, California Walnuts’ consulting foodservice chef and assistant VP of culinary strategy for Charlie Baggs Culinary Innovations.
“Using spreads and dips like harissa, muhammara and walnut pesto can bring these bold, ethnic flavors into familiar usages.”
Get the recipe for Spanish-Style Striped Bass Sandwich with Walnut Harissa
Black Soybean Taco Burger
As a plant-forward twist on a favorite global mash-up, this Black Soybean Taco Burger is made with a combination of textured vegetable protein (TVP) and black soy beans.
Here, the TVP is rehydrated with vegetable broth for added flavor, then mixed with mashed black soy beans for a plant-protein boost. Taco seasoning is added to the mix and, once patties are formed and cooked, the burger is topped with classic taco fixings.
To signaturize further, swap out the broth with a craft beer for a more complex profile, or use half TVP and half ground turkey or beef for a more heart-healthy meaty profile with the benefits of soy protein.
“The twist is to add plant-based soy protein for a lean protein and low saturated offering,” says Linda Funk, executive director for The Soyfoods Council. She also suggests altering the spice and topping blends to vary the profile for different global tastes.
Get the recipe for Black Soy Bean Burgers
Chicken and Grape Arepa
Arepas are a staple in Colombian and Venezuelan cuisine, where each region has its own variation. Now becoming more common in North America, this global format can provide endless flavor possibilities.
This Chicken and Grape Arepa takes the corn cake, splits it and stuffs it with a combination of shredded chicken seasoned with smoked paprika and scallions, fresh grapes and crumbled feta to create a hearty sandwich with a global spin.
The smokiness of the chicken combines with the tangy, salty feta and crisp, juicy grapes, enveloped in a comforting shell of corn.
“Introducing global flavors in a sandwich format is a great approach to expanding menu options,” says Courtney Romano, foodservice consultant to the California Table Grape Commission.
“Customers seek new flavor experiences, and curating flavor combinations that are beloved in other cultures is a great place to start. The sandwich format makes the flavor adventure more approachable—it’s familiar and easy to eat.”
Emparedado de Lechon con Jalea de Piña
Cuban-inspired flavor and savory rich, crispy pork make this hot sandwich irresistible and on trend.
In this Emparedado de Lechon con Jalea de Piña, toasted criollo bread is spread with a spicy Sriracha, white pepper and cilantro mayonnaise, then layered with a sweet pineapple jam. Cucumber slices provide crunch, while the slow-roasted, skin-on pork slices create a mouthwatering centerpiece.
With the growing popularity of Cuban fare, it’s a great time to dig deeper into the culture.
“According to Datassential, Cuban food increased in menu penetration by 71.7 percent over the last four years,” says Neel Sahni, national foodservice marketing manager for the National Pork Board.
“Introducing global flavors in a sandwich form is approachable, yet allows for total creativity with meats, spreads, sauces and condiments—even the bread.” Sahni adds: “Consumers are more likely to try a limited-time offering sandwich with a price point of $5 to $9 rather than risk trying an entrée.”
Aussie Grass-fed Beef Banh Mi
A global mash-up in its own right, the banh mi has demonstrated a steady rise in sandwich stardom.
Roy Villacrusis, executive chef at Asiatic Group, makes an Aussie Grass-fed Beef Banh Mi, with finely sliced Australian grass-fed steak, along with Brie for richness.
Perfectly toasted baguette halves spread with liver pâté make the savory base for the sandwich. Red ribbon sorrel leaves and cilantro add a pinch of freshness, and the pickled carrot, bell pepper and daikon mixture top it off for the traditional zing. Jalapeño slices add just the right amount of heat to this adaptable handheld.
“The banh mi is a truly versatile platform—you can use almost any combination of pickled veggies in the slaw, or even a fruit like mango. It also accommodates a wide range of proteins. Why not a few lamb meatballs, or a braising cut like brisket?” says Catherine Golding, business development manager for True Aussie Beef & Lamb.
“For American diners, a sandwich is easy, familiar and friendly, making it a great vehicle for introducing ingredients and flavors that might be more adventurous. For the operator, they’re economical, with a food cost that’s healthy for the bottom line.”
Get the recipe for Aussie Grassfed Beef Banh Mi
Honey Tandoori Chicken
In a sweet-and-spicy take on tandoori chicken, honey is featured three ways in this flatbread sandwich of Honey Tandoori Chicken with Honey Yogurt Raita and Sweet & Spicy Honey-Jalapeño-Cilantro Sauce.
The raita—prepared with Greek yogurt, cucumber, cumin, ginger, honey and lemon—serves as a creamy, cooling element to the bold-flavored sandwich, with the honey adding viscosity. The honey-jalapeño-cilantro sauce provides heat and freshness.
Tandoori chicken can be served on its own, over rice, as a skewer and so on, but a handheld version is especially inviting.
“The value of introducing global flavors in a sandwich format is three-fold: It offers convenience, familiarity, and a palatable price point, which today’s consumers crave,” says Catherine Barry, marketing director with the National Honey Board.
Get the recipe for Honey Tandoori Chicken Flatbread Sandwich