When I visited Sydney a couple of weeks ago, BL and I spent a couple of afternoons eating our way around Cabramatta, which, for the uninitiated, is the Vietnamese epicentre of Sydney and located an hour by train west of the CBD.
Seriously, you’ll feel as if you’re back in Hanoi, albeit, without all the motorbikes and street stalls. Oh, and the heat… okay, you’re not back in Hanoi, but let’s just say you could pretend you’re in a very orderly Vietnamese city.
There are dozens of restaurants once you step onto the main street of Cabramatta. When we visited on a Saturday, most had queues out the door. Our first mission was to find a bowl of life-affirming phở bò, which is why we could not go past a restaurant that advertises ‘Pho for everyone’. We squeezed in between the small tables laden with steaming bowls of noodle goodness, and was lucky to get a table as there was just the two of us. The menu is on a signboard on the wall, and with a choice of phở, phở or more phở. The small bowls are a steal at < $10.
I went for my favourite, – phở bò sách or beef noodle soup with rare beef and tripe. BL had the combination, phở dặc biệt which is the combination consisting of various beef assortments. Service is lightning fast; your food reaches your table mere minutes after the order is taken. Order the small size, given the quantity provided, I have no idea how anyone can actually finish a large.
The noodle soup comes with a wedge of lime, beansprouts (choose raw or blanched) and large sprigs of Vietnamese mint. There were selections of sauces for you to customise your soup, – chilli, fish sauce, soy sauce, etc. The soup was exceedingly tasty, the noodles just perfectly done, though I found the tripe too chewy, they should have a bite, but tear readily in your mouth. Their version of cà phê sữa đá (coffee with condensed milk and ice) was strong and refreshing.
We came back the following week to sample more dishes. Phú Quôć Restaurant is a highly rated eatery on Urbanspoon, and it was on the opposite spectrum compared to Pho Ann in terms of the offerings on the menu, there was such a huge choice, we took (what seemed like forever for the proprietor) to decide. I chose the bún dặc biệt (combination rice vermicelli salad). The vermicelli was just the perfect bite, there was the crunch of the deep-fried spring roll and crushed peanuts, the headiness of the lemongrass meats, the tang of the pickled carrots, the fish cakes and a fish sauce mix to toss everything together.
When we observed the rest of the diners, everyone else appeared to be rolling their own rice paper rolls. So, we ordered the bánh hỏi dặc biệt (special steam rice noodle), bánh hỏi refers to the type of rice vermicelli which is woven into bundles, and ‘special’ meant we got a bit of everything, – sugar cane prawn, lemongrass pork and chicken, pork meatloaf, deep-fried spring rolls and pickled veggies. The dish is also served with herbs (mint and perilla), lettuce, spring onions and julienned cucumbers, a stack of rice paper, water to soften the rice papers and a pair of scissors to cut the meats into manageable rolling sizes. We should have observed the other diners more carefully, as this dish is actually for 2, so we settled in for the long haul.
This is such a brilliant concept, you wet the rice paper, then lay down the base of a lettuce leaf, then you just pile on anything which grabs your interest, and start rolling. A small dish of nước mắm pha (dipping sauce) is provided. The balance of flavours and textures makes this a truly memorable dish.
We took our time wandering around Cabramatta, and marvelled at the range of tropical fruits (we bought a custard apple and papaya), vegetables and herbs. And the fresh seafood, – I counted 5 varieties of fresh prawns. There were fresh Thai durians for $6.50 per kilo, or if you were feeling rich, there’s the famous Malaysian Musang King durians for $14.99 per kilo. The supermarkets here also sell the full range of Trang Nguyen coffees which are tricky to find back in Auckland.
The food here is just spectacular, and I doubt you will go wrong whichever eatery you step into. I’m looking forward to eating many delicious meals here once I’m permanently in Sydney.
10-12/70-72 John Street,
Ph: 02-9723 2529
Open 7 days 8am – 8pm
11/117 Corner John St & Hill St
Ph: 02 – 9724 2188
Open 7 days 9am – 9pm