94 Hopkins St, Footscray
Phone: 9689 9909
Back when I was living in Sai Gon, my housemate was a pescetarian/vegaquarian/whatchamacallit-fish-n-vegies-eater. Which isn’t all that hard to maintain in Viet Nam, but it does take a little vigilance, especially when it comes to soups. Never know when one of those sneaky pyjama ladies will slip a chicken carcass in that pot.
But I jest. In fact, it’s actually quite common to find vegetarian food in Sai Gon, if not all the time, then at least twice a month, on the first and fifteenth of each lunar month, when some Buddhists observe meat-free days. I quite liked these days – there was a bun mang vit (duck and bamboo shoot soup noodles) joint near my work which would serve awesome bun cha gio chay (rice vermicelli with vegetarian spring rolls) twice a month. For other times of the month, there was always the place near my gym that was run by a little old Buddhist nun, who spoke a surprisingly good amount of English. The braised pressed tofu balls there were amazing.
Anyway, I’d been meaning to try Bo de Trai since I moved to Footscray. It’s a vegetarian restaurant of the Buddhist variety. That means there’s lots of mock meat going on there. It’s run by a few little middle-aged Vietnamese ladies, who are warm and friendly. They remind me of my aunts.
I went on my own for lunch, and had the bun rieu, which is a crab and tomato based soup noodle. I wasn’t sure what to expect, because the crab and fermented shrimp paste are quite strong components of the flavour of bun rieu. When it arrived at the table, I was impressed. It looked pretty great!
My other complaint about the place, and this applies pretty generally across most vegetarian restaurants, was the clientele. I wish I had brought my headphones with me, so I could block out the one girl at the table next to mine pontificating about her motivations for being vegetarian, and trying to generally show off how much she knows about various meat substitutes like seitan and Quorn. If only you could enjoy good vegetarian food without having to listen to the rants of militant vegetarians!
So not to be too hypocritical, I’ll end my rant there. As you can see, I really liked this bowl of noodles. Bo de Trai is definitely worth visiting.