We started with a reasonable strategy: check out all of the food vendors before settling on one. Most of the food stalls were hosted by restaurants around Tokyo and featured large plastic signs that boasted giant pictures of pho, banh xeo, and che. With hunger and the heat taking their toll, we settled on a vendor specializing in banh mi, with one of the longer lines extending before it. We inched towards the front, waiting around 20 minutes before being handed our packets of banh mi, disappointingly plucked off a pile of pre-assembled, pre-bagged sandwiches.
The robust sandwich I’d imagined and expected, fat with pickles and garnished with a sprig or two of cilantro, was crush flat as I pulled out something that resembled a quesadilla. There was a generous smear of pate and two slices of the usual mystery meat that usually lurks within the sandwich when you order the special banh mi. A cucumber slice had a brief cameo, along with a few carrots that had escaped the pull of gravity while the sandwich had been propped up on its end. Worst of all, the pickles were cut like fat crinkle cut fries, and most of them lay at the bottom of the bag, within sight but out of reach.