This was something of an unexpected battle. Mostly because I wasn’t aware that any place in Melbourne served cha ca thang long other than Sapa Hills, but also, because I didn’t expect to have it twice on consecutive nights!
Cha ca thang long is a Northern Vietnamese grilled fish dish, which is often hard to find outside of Viet Nam. Most of the Vietnamese food we get here in Australia is of the Southern Vietnamese style. I think this has a lot to do historically with migration patterns, and the fact that a large proportion of Vietnamese refugees who settled here after the Viet Nam war were from Southern Viet Nam.
In any case, Sapa Hills became quite popular after opening just over a year ago, with glowing reviews in the mainstream media, and being that ‘little bit different’ by serving a menu which is heavily influenced with Northern and central style Vietnamese dishes, like bun cha and of course, cha ca. What I, and I assume most other people, didn’t know was that there are other Vietnamese places around, with just as interesting and diverse menus on offer. Such as Dong Que, a few doors down from Sapa Hills.
Dong Que – 102 Hopkins St, Footscray
Phone: 9689 4392
I had been to Dong Que once before, and was rather uninspired by the food. But when @eatnik and @meatnik declared that they were in the mood for banh xeo, I had to admit I was at a loss as to where we should go in Footscray. I guess I’ve been blinkered somewhat by my lust for soup noodles – namely pho and bun bo Hue – since I moved to Footscray, and I haven’t really been testing out the other staples of Vietnamese cuisine in the ‘hood. So as we walked along Hopkins St, Dong Que god the nod by default, because it was the first place with pictures of banh xeo in the window.
When it arrived, the banh xeo didn’t disappoint. Not too oily, and wonderfully crisp around the edges, the ‘crepe’ was laden with bean shoots, mung beans, belly pork and shrimp. A great version of what a banh xeo should be, in my opinion. The only thing I would say is that they could have used a touch more turmeric and coconut milk in the crepe batter itself. But I’m nitpicking here. Oh, and don’t let the picture fool you – that’s a big plate, and the banh xeo was even bigger!
But on to the main event – the cha ca! Arriving on a sizzling plate, the fish was beautifully grilled, with just a touch of crunchy char to the edges, and you can see the hefty use of turmeric and dill, the two signature flavours of cha ca.
Sapa Hills – 112 Hopkins St, Footscray
Phone: 9687 5729
The next night, I caught up with Mr I and Ms D. Both of them had read another recent review of Sapa Hills, and wanted to try it out. Never having been myself, I heartily agreed.
Living in Footscray, and eating a lot of Vietnamese food, leads me to often look through the menu for something which isn’t often found at other restaurants. At Sapa Hills, this meant there were quite a few attractive options. First up, we ordered the bun cha.
I was looking forward to the cha ca, despite having had it the previous night, because I’d heard a lot about Sapa Hills’ rendition.
We also ordered the chicken and salted fish fried rice, which was quite good! Tasty, not too oily, and I love it when people cook lettuce, so points for that. I would have liked a little less chicken and a little more salted fish, though.
So when it comes down to it, both restaurants have their strong points, and there are many reasons on both menus that call for return visits. But when it comes to the crunch, Dong Que’s cha ca was streets ahead of Sapa Hills’, in my opinion.