Five years ago this month, college friends Ratha Chaupoly and Ben Daitz opened a 10-seat spot off of University Place called Num Pang (“sandwich” in Cambodian), and as we explain in our current issue, the city’s sandwich scene hasn’t been the same since.
Their resumes included Bouley, Daniel, Le Cirque, Danube, Tabla and Saul, but the trailblazing menu was short and sweet — just eight reimagined riffs on the classic bánh mì. Replacing the slippery cold cuts and squishy pâté were brilliant fillings like grilled skirt steak with crushed coriander and peppercorn, roasted cauliflower with Chinese and Thai eggplant spread, fried black pepper catfish, and pulled Duroc pork. To drink, they offered thirst quenchers like homemade blood orange lemonade and watermelon juice.
Long lines immediately formed and haven’t let up since. Five years later, Num Pang — named “New York’s Quietest Restaurant Empire” by New York magazine — now includes locations in Chelsea, Times Square and East Midtown and will soon add the World Financial Center.
But one of the coolest expansions isn’t a new location. It’s the “Guest Chefs Give Back Program,” through which stars like ABC Kitchen’s Dan Kluger and Gramercy Tavern’s Mike Anthony custom create a new sandwich from which all proceeds go to charity, half to a nonprofit the guest chef taps and half to the Cambodian Children’s Fund, providing the kinds of services Chaupoly says he needed when he was a kid there.
The first guest chef was none other than Mario Batali, who says he jumped on board because Num Pang is on his “best-of-NY lists, one of my favorite places” for its ingenious combination of tradition and innovation.
This great short above shows the almighty Batali cooking up his creation — surely the world’s first sandwich to contain both cotechino sausage and cilantro. It’s well worth the watch, especially when Batali explains that cotechino is made from pig skin, which gives it that “luxurious and gelatinous mouth-smacking pah-pah!” All that plus money for charity? No wonder Batali declares it a win-win-win.
Featured Photo Credit: Joe Martinez