Can you remember when the epitome of a great healthy lunch was a salad sandwich? It was made to order from the deli bar of corner stores, where stainless steel containers of lettuce, tomato, cucumber and beetroot sat waiting in readiness for the next order. Ham, chicken and cheese were optional. Beetroot was a given on both sandwiches and burgers for its vinegary zing of flavour.
How dining times have changed! Our lunch choices now include sushi, tacos, arepas, poke bowls, yiros, kebabs, noodles, bao and banh mi, a plethora of world flavours.
In an arena where options must cater for a variety of food preferences, the salad sandwich bar concept has much to offer diners.
It’s a thought that struck Lindsay Green. After 12 years in the organic food industry, she made the decision to open up her own takeaway shop in her ‘favourite street in the country’ – James Street, Burleigh Heads. Reminiscing about her ‘salad sandwich bar’ experiences, why not give diners a similar choice of ingredients in Vietnamese food, particularly banh mi, she thought. So, she did.
With pastel-coloured banquettes as pretty as an ice cream shop, the Bun Lee Bar opened, bringing the flavours of Vietnam out of a traditional linoleum-lined shop into the modern age, the first banh mi ‘bar’ to hit our shores. Bright in sunshine-lit Burleigh, the stainless-steel ingredient bar gleams cleanliness, no steamy street stall in sight.
Employing Vietnamese chef Linda to max out on flavour authenticity, the menu is centred around banh mi, the pâté, pork and veg-filled rolls prolific throughout Vietnam. While Bun Lee Bar’s baguette rolls are not quite crisp enough to pierce the roof of your mouth, there are other advantages to their product.
Firstly, there is no compunction to go traditional (although their traditional version is a mighty tasty one)! Instead, the modern diner is well catered for. Along with the freshest salad, herbs and tasty sauces, you can have a choice of fillings including pâté, pork (of course), crispy pork belly, chicken, beef, tofu (which is vegan), and gluten-free bread, making Bun Lee probably the only place in Australia where Fodmap and vegan diners can enjoy banh mi.
Other menu choices include bao, rice paper rolls – both regular and low carb, and vermicelli salad (bun). The cold pressed juices and nitro cold brew on tap are great options to wash down that crunchy roll.
Talking authentic, for decades travel has been a rite of passage. Generations set off to discover Europe and Asia, Vietnam being high on the list of ‘must do’ locations to visit.
Yet here we are with a generation of youth who have not yet travelled due to Covid. It’s likely that, in the very near future, they will not see steaming pots of pho boiling on sidewalk stalls in Hanoi, not encounter markets where meals are sold in three-cornered plastic bags, nor experience vendors selling their wares from boats in the Mekong Delta. They will also not be able to experientially place foods such as banh mi into their cultural and historical context.
Their closest experience to Vietnam during the next few years may well be at Bun Lee Bar. Here, their lunch on the run will be fast, fresh, affordable, sustainable, clean, healthy and tasty. As it turns out, that’s not such a bad alternative at all!
Bun Lee Bar, 2/ 26 James Street, Burleigh Heads Ph: 0401426574
Open: Mon – Sun 7am – 3pm