As a follow up to my popular story recently on where to get your hands on the world’s most-adored sandwich in Saigon – the Reuben – I’ve decided to dedicate a post to each establishment that was featured.
So I hit up Eddie’s New York Deli & Diner to get the lowdown on what makes a great Reuben sandwich.
“A great Reuben, like all great dishes, is all about using top quality ingredients and making sure it’s all balanced,” says Brad Segal of Eddie’s, which is located in the Western expat borough of Thao Dien in Saigon’s District 2.
Eddie’s is probably the closest thing to 1950s and 1960s Americana as you can get in Saigon, perhaps even all of Vietnam, with its ground floor rocking the retro vibe of Rocko’s Diner, the one that Pop’s Chock’Lit Shoppe was modelled on in the Netflix series Riverdale.
For those of you not young enough, wind the clock back a bit to 90210’s Peach Pit to get a bit of an idea of just how “American” this place feels.
Eddie’s may well hammer me for saying it, but I think you get the picture.
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“And then, of course,” continues Segal, “a great deal of attention needs to be paid to how the sandwich’s grilled. Again, you need the balance of crispiness without it being dry.”
Indeed, it wasn’t until I started poking around for the story that I realised how important the Reuben has become for Americans and how iconic it is in the topography of their country’s mighty culinary landscape.
I can’t begin to think of an equivalent in Australia – at least not a sandwich.
We did invent the Pavlova though (named after a Russian ballerina who visited us on tour in the 1920s), a meringue-based dessert with a crispy crust (that cracks under as little pressure as some of the concrete sidewalks around here) encasing a fluffy inside that’s heaped with whipped cream and topped with slices of fresh fruit.
They were all the rage at dinner parties in the 80s.
But it’s hardly a match for the Reuben, is it?
This “man-spread” of a sandwich with its huge payload of corned beef brisket, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing.
At any rate, the Kiwis across the ditch claim they invented our Pavlova and in the meantime have robbed us of the dignity of being able to say outright that we actually have a national dish.
Unless, that is, we can somehow claim the Peach Melba, a dessert named after Australia’s first internationally acclaimed opera singer of the late 1800s.
But even that was invented in London.
“When we first started talking about opening Eddie’s, we knew the hardest thing to get right would be the Reuben, as everything would need to be developed from scratch here in Saigon,” says Segal, a Minnesotan who’s been living in Asia for over 30 years. “It used to be really hard to find an authentic one here.”
Well, clearly times have changed. Saigoners needn’t look far to find the authentic classic these days.
“Reuben’s have been part of my entire life,” says Segal whose heritage traces back to eastern Europe and says he grew up eating “Jewish soul food.”
“We had corned beef sandwiches at home almost every Sunday night, but Reubens were really a special treat,” he says. “I probably had my first one when I was five or six years old and we were very lucky to have a deli in Minneapolis called the Lincoln Deli that was famous for their Reuben.”
Now Eddie’s is forging its own reputation for its Reuben sandwich on the other side of the planet and perhaps, who knows, theirs will be etched into the memories of young kids from the District 2 neighbourhood who will go on and tell their own stories about it.
In Eddie’s version, Segal uses high-quality corned beef or pastrami which is made in-house over 10 to 14 days from imported US beef brisket to exacting standards to provide his customers with what he says is “an authentic deli experience.”
“It’s part science, part artistry and bit of magic,” he says.
Eddie’s New York Deli & Diner is at 71 Thao Dien Street, District 2, HCMC
Words by Matthew Cowan. Follow Matt on Instagram at @mattcowansaigon
Photo of Eddie’s vegetarian Reuben sandwich provided by Eddie’s New York Deli & Diner