Sometimes we are so busy trying the newest restaurants and going into downtown Boston and Cambridge that we forget some of the really cool things available in our own neighborhood, Dorchester. For those of you not familiar with Boston, Dorchester is its largest neighborhood. On the South side of the city, Dorchester spans a pretty large area, much of it edged by sparkling blue ocean and views of the Boston Harbor Islands. Our proximity to the beach for walks, runs, and picnics, is one of the reasons living here can be great. The diversity in people, and therefore in food, is another.
Dorchester Avenue runs the length of Dorchester and sports shops, restaurants, and bars that proudly display the neighborhood’s prominent cultures which include Irish, Vietnamese, and Cape Verdean residents. From bars like the Banshee and the Harp and Bard to the rows of Vietnamese bakeries, salons, and clothing stores, it is quite an interesting mix and, in my opinion, is a great little slice of America.
My husband and I love banh mi sandwiches, Vietnamese creations with a French flair, crusty French bread topped with various fillings, most important for me being cilantro and pickled vegetables. However, when we are in the mood for a banh mi, we usually head to Myers + Chang. Yesterday, with no desire to move the car or take the T, we decided to explore a little bit of our own back yard. We ended up at Banh Mi Ba Le, a small shop featuring a variety of types of banh mi, in addition to French bread and pastries, a juice bar, and countless other treats.
Ba Le is a complete feast for the senses. Everything was so bright and beautiful; stepping inside from the blinding, cold snow, and into the shop was truly like traveling across the world.
I will fully admit that I don’t know what most of the items in the store were, but I am interested in learning. We were quite hungry and stuck to ordering banh mi, fried tofu for me and shredded pork for the mister.
In the very short amount of time it took for our sandwiches to come out, I looked around and observed bustling New Years activities taking place. The staff were assembling bunches of baskets, decorated in red, gold, and pink.
On the other side of the store, colorful sweets filled the space.
As I was taking photos, the store’s owner, Jennifer came over and introduced herself to us. She explained that the Vietnamese New Year was coming up and that the store was decorated as it would be in Vietnam. She wanted to bring that experience to neighbors, like us, and to Vietnamese children growing up in America so that they could experience the New Year celebrations as they would be in their parents’ homeland.
Jennifer made us feel so warm and welcome in the store that it made me excited to explore more of the neighborhood.
We brought our banh mi sandwiches home for a leisurely lunch on the couch. They were not just $3 a piece, they were all sorts of mmmmm’s and yummm’s delicious. As we chewed the bread, crusty on the outside, soft on the inside, we oohed and ahhed. Each bite brought slightly chewy marinated tofu with crunchy vegetables, spicy jalapeno peppers, and flavorful bursts of cilantro.
Each bite was perfect, so incredibly fresh and bright. It was just the thing we needed to add a little sunshine to a cold and wintry day.
I am thinking of organizing a Dorchester adventure day for the spring. It would be a fun mix of food and drink that might include a football (soccer) or rugby match and perhaps end in a night dancing at a local pub. Stay tuned!
Do you have a hidden gem in your neighborhood I should know about?