Num Pang – a Cambodian sandwich letdown

Num Pang is a favorite of mine, so it was only a matter of time before I brought my foodie friend Derek along. Num Pang means “bread” or “sandwich” in Cambodian, and is most similar to a Vietnamese banh mi with Cambodian themes. They take it a step further by creatively mixing top-quality, local ingredients to achieve an impressive selection of sandwiches. Apparently I’ve been here often enough for the girl to recognize me, and I’d have chatted with her were it not for the long, but fast-moving, line. Derek and I ordered a Five-Spice Glazed Pork Belly ($7.75) and a Hoisin Veal Meatballs ($7.00). I wasn’t leaving without a Blood Orange Lemonade ($2.50), and convinced Derek to grab one too.

Seating upstairs would be tight, so we moved to Whole Foods to chow down. While taking pictures, I noticed an unusually large amount of the sauce leaking out. My suspicions were confirmed when I took a bite out of the Pork Belly sandwich, tasting more chilli mayo than I should have. Num Pang is known for meaty sandwiches; unfortunately, the generous portions of pork were dry, making it challenge to eat. I suspected it was overcooked, and Derek believed more fat was required. Although I found the cucumber, pickled carrots, and cilantro (included in every sandwich) to be refreshingly crisp, it was overwhelmed by the excessive application of the mayo. The mayo did even more harm by soaking the mini-baguette, ruining the bread from Parisi Bakery.

I had hopes that the Veal Meatball (a longtime favorite) would save me from lunchtime embarrassment. It turned out that the same problems plaguing the Pork Belly were tainting this one. The liberal dose of chilli mayo ended up giving each bite a mushy taste, and I couldn’t taste the jasmine rice, basil, and stewed tomatoes I expected. It seems like a waste to have included the extra ingredients if only to drown them in the homemade chilli mayo. Too much of a good thing really can be a bad idea.

I sadly finished my meal and washed it down with the Blood Orange Lemonade, which is (not surprisingly) consistent in its intensity of tartness. It takes some getting used to and is easy to dislike at first sip. I’ve learned to love it, and so should you.

If it weren’t for the heavy-handedness of whoever put the chilli mayo on, I feel know the sandwich would have performed better. I will definitely be back, but will probably have trouble with Num Pang’s “no modifications” rule. (Half of their negative reviews are because of this strict policy). The confidence in their sandwiches is warranted: everything is good, just not in the right balance.

Num Pang (site) ★★★☆☆
21 E 12th St (between 5th Ave & University Pl) map
New York, NY 10003
Neighborhoods: Greenwich Village, Union Square

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