In the mood for Vietnamese…

by Forager on March 9, 2009

I love Vietnamese food. Love it! During conversations discussing favourite cuisines and the one cuisine that I couldn’t live without it’s always a close tie between Japanese and Vietnamese. Vietnamese usually wins though (as a sneaky answer to that question) as it’s so diverse it covers elements of Chinese, Thai and French – it’s the greedy person’s answer. So it was high time I went out west for some truly good tasty and authentic Vietnamese. So upon a friend’s recommendation, I met up with a group of old friends at Bau Truong at Canley Heights. The restaurant is located on busy Canley Vale road and when I arrive early on Saturday evening I see that it is still bustling with activity – of families emerging for dinner, and others making last minute grocery purchases for that night’s dinner.

We head to the restaurant and despite the unassuming exterior, once inside I immediately notice that the decor is more modern and stylish than the surrounding eateries in the area. Although I am perplexed about the smattering of shamrock leaves adorning the glass screen that greets guests at the door. Is there an mysterious Irish link to the restaurant? Or is it as strange and out-of-place as the plastic grapes and woven carpets at the popular Chinese eatery in Chinatown, Chinese Noodle Restaurant? Further inside though, my fears that of lack of authenticity are allayed when I see the tables packed with locals and smell delicious scents wafting from the busy kitchen.

I am dining with 3 friends here – all Vietnamese, all food lovers, and all know what they like in Vietnamese food. We choose some seafood spring rolls to start; then Bun Oc, a tomato-based rice vermicelli soup with sea snails; Bun Mi Vang Tom Cua, a prawn, crab and pork rice vermicelli soup; crispy chicken with tomato rice and Banh Xeo or Vietnamese pancake.

The spring rolls arrive first and we eagerly tuck in to the crunchy parcels, dipping them in nuoc cham provided, a dipping sauce made with fish sauce and pickled vegetables. The spring rolls aren’t made with the usual spring roll pastry but a lighter pastry more like deep fried bean curd sheets in texture. The seafood filling tastes like fish paste extended out with a little too much flour. The Vietnamese connoisseurs I am with are hard to please and speculate that the filling is actually seafood extender.

Our mains arrive next and we automatically start reaching for the accompanying lemon and herbs to add flavour and crunch to our meals. My seasnail soup is fascinating and I poke and prod the small dark nuggets floating about in my soup. The seasnails themselves have a slightly rubbery, crunchy texture and the soup is delicately flavoured. It is fairly tasty but I would have preferred a little more flavour and body to my soup, given the snails don’t contribute much flavour. I ask the others how their meals are and get a variety of responses – the crispy chicken is reportedly tasty and good; the Vietnamese pancake is tasty although overloaded with bean sprouts and frugal with pork and prawn; the mixed prawn, crab and pork noodle soup gets a quick and resounding “nuh“, although my friend then proceeds to polish off the entire meal faster than the rest of us. Opinionated we may be, but food wasters we are not. I finish off the meal slurping down a refreshing milk, soda egg drink – a drink that contains exactly that: condensed milk, soda water and a fresh egg. It’s slightly sweet, fizzy and refreshing.

I thought Bau Truong was good but not mind blowing. Perhaps I should have tried the Bun Bo Hue, a flavourful and spicy beef noodle soup – the dish recommended by the friend that recommended the restaurant. *Argh*. Rookie error.

Having not quite satisfied my Vietnamese craving, I decided to head to Pho Pasteur the next day to get my staple fix and kick the craving once and for all. The co-pilot ordered his usual – a small beef pho with extra beef (around $12). The pho comes in small and large, but the co-pilot finds that the large version just gets you more of everything – noodles included whereas all he wants is more of the delicate, delicious beef. I get my usual pork leg and beef spicy noodle (about $10) but switch the thick rice vermicelli noodle that it normally comes with to the rice noodle instead.

It’s delicious and just what my Vietnamese craving was crying out for. The co-pilot’s beef pho is as always – perfect. The soup is delicious and intensely flavoured – a result of hours and hours of slow preparation of the special stock. The beef comes raw, paper-thin and cooks almost instantly in the hot broth. My pork leg and beef spicy soup is my vice. The fatty slices of pork leg are juicy, the beef delicious and the soup an explosion of tomato-ey, beefy goodness. They’re delicious, healthy and the ultimate hangover cures. I declare it the breakfast of champions and my full belly puts a happy smile on my face for the rest of the day.

Addresses:

Bau Truong
250 Canley Vale Road, Canley Heights (02) 9755 7099
Open daily from 10am – 11pm.

Pho Pasteur
709 George Street, Haymarket (02) 9212 5622
Open daily from 10am – 9pm.

Foodie in the know:
Often service in authentic Asian eateries will be abrupt but don’t take it personally – that’s just the communication culture. They may also refuse your attempts to customise your order and insist with some force you have it the way the dish is intended (I think the staff at Pho Pasteur are just used to our strange requests so they relent).


Updates & Disclaimers:
1. This isn’t a Pho Challenge – just a review of two Vietnamese restaurants. There is/was a Pho Challenge in the wings but I fear it might stir up more controversy than it’s worth, split the Vietnamese cuisine loving fiends into distinct factions, instigate civil riots, and I know for a fact there is a possibility that perhaps an apocalypse might also occur after that. No hyperboles. It’s true – because a wise Chinese man told me.

2. I don’t normally try to customise orders to suit my taste. But ever since my teens when my best friend L-bean introduced me to my favourite Vietnamese noodle, Hu Tieu Dai, it has become a bit of a running joke between us. The noodle has a chewy texture that I adore, but I cannot for the life of me pronounce this properly. I didn’t think that Vietnamese is a more tonal language than Chinese, but after countless episodes of me pronouncing
Hu Tieu Dai in every tonal combination possible I now think differently. And when I finally do hit the right tones and see it register in the wait person’s eyes it’s almost guaranteed that they will respond in a resounding dead-pan “no“. I’ve had my fair share of matronly lectures on the inappropriateness of this noodle with it seems – everything edible. So I guess I now ask to switch noodles out of habit and curiousity – just to see whether they will.

So don’t try to ask a Vietnamese eatery to customise unless you’re ready for a matronly lecture. Unless you have food allergies – or you’re vegetarian – or you have religious dietary restrictions – or normal dietary restrictions – or really any other valid reason…

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 anarcist March 9, 2009 at 9:40 pm

1. You still rate Pho Pasteur? I could’ve sworn it had fallen off over the years.

In the city, I rate Pho24 in the food court behind Passionflower, above Town Hall station (next to Pavilion pub).

2. Vietnamese over Japanese food? Say it ain’t so! :)

I’ll be the first to sing the praises of a good phở đặc biệt; but when pitted against sashimi/sushi, nimono, sake no zakana or kaiseki? No contest! :p

The only thing that comes close is Chinese food, with its sheer variety. Within the four seas, all foodies are taken care of… :)

2 anarcist March 9, 2009 at 9:46 pm

3. I’m glad if I can go to a restaurant and get my food efficiently without being fussed over.

Also, I don’t understand why someone would go into a restaurant and tell them how to cook their dishes. If I go somewhere, it’s because I want *their* food. If I don’t want what they’re cooking, I’ll go somewhere else or go home.

People need to get over themselves, and question why they want to have waiters grovelling at their feet, and cooks following their every whim.

/* end rant */

3 Forager March 10, 2009 at 10:21 am

Hey anarcist – woah! You’re intensely passionate about everything from Japanese to pizzas and now Vietnamese. Ok I’ve updated my post to clarify a few points. And in response to your comments:

1. Yes, I do rate Pho Pasteur. It’s good. I like it. I’ve tried Pho An (Bankstown), Pho Minh (Cabramatta) and almost every other Pho eatery in Canley Vale, Canley Heights and Cabramatta that I know only by location and not by name and I’d still rate it amongst the best. But – will go and eat at Pho24 (you’re adding so many restaurants to my “to eat at” list)

2. Yup – it was a hard decision but yes, Vietnamese over Japanese. *gasp* Don’t hate me! Only because whilst I was in Japan, the noticeable lack of fruit, freshly squeezed fruit juice and salads in the “everyday” diet (without paying gazillions) left me wanting.
Having said that, in Sydney, where you can have the benefits of all cuisinese and dietary supplements at hand – then I choose Japanese (of course! 😉 )

3. I’ve added a note about my need to “customise”.

/*end amused retort*/

4 Lorraine @NotQuiteNigella March 10, 2009 at 11:48 am

Hehe yes it’s a tough decision with Vietnamese over Japanese but I would probably lean towards Japanese being a fish lover although I love the freshness and flavours of Vietnamese.

5 Adam March 10, 2009 at 4:47 pm

Hi,

Don’t get me wrong. My comment was totally tongue-in-cheek :)

1. I do head to Pho Pasteur every now and then. It’s the closest Vietnamese restaurant to my apartment, and I’m not always keen on travelling a long way on a Sunday morning…

2. But yeah, I do like my Japanese food. You’re right, though, about the fruit thing. Rare and expensive over there.

3. Whoa… Hủ tiếu? Like, tapioca noodles? Where did you get a bowl of those?

Asking for those wherever you go is a bit different to someone asking for “extra béarnaise, hold the butter…” :)

Also, you’re also not going to complain (on eatability, say) if the restaurant doesn’t give you the noodles you asked for. :)

6 Forager March 11, 2009 at 10:19 am

Hey Lorraine – I know what you mean! Japanese is a very very close second (and ranked first when I am in Sydney)

Hey Adam – That’s cool! I was just teasing you 😉 As for the Hu Tieu, where do you get a bowl of those you ask – that’s the point! I don’t know. There are 2 places in Cabramatta that I get it at and they’re always paired with seafood. Maybe that’s what is deemed best suited for the texture? Otherwise – my best friend will make it for me when I get very very desperate.

7 jesse March 11, 2009 at 1:11 pm

Oh my lord, I looooove this post. Hahaha! I would never have thought of trying to customize my dish in a Vietnamese restaurant… kudos to you! Gah, still trying to find a decent Vietnamese place here in Oxford, but so far, no luck =(

8 Forager March 11, 2009 at 10:16 pm

Hey Jesse – Thanks! Yes – I don’t think many people are stupid enough to try and customise dishes in a Vietnamese restaurant :( *sigh* Call me a glutton for punishment. Hope you do find a good Vietnamese place in Oxford (let me know and I’ll put it on my “to eat at” list).

9 L-bean March 15, 2009 at 10:45 pm

I say stepping away from the controversy of a pho challenge is a good move. It would be friend against friend and Pestilence, War, Famine and Death would almost certainly follow.
You have not over dramatised the situation, Vietnamese and Vietnamese food lovers are rather passionate about where they eat their pho, maybe overly so.

10 Forager March 16, 2009 at 9:51 am

Yes L-bean. The co-pilot is still quite keen on a pho challenge but I might just keep those experiences as general reviews and not a challenge per se.

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