246 Springvale Rd, Springvale
Phone: 9548 0707
It’s not often I head as far South East as Springvale. When you live in the West, you don’t often head all the way across town unless you have a good reason. I think visiting my Nanna is a good reason. I’ll be honest, I probably don’t see her as often as I should. Partly it’s because I’m busy with my own life, but it’s also because I’m too lazy to make more time to fit family in to my life. Which is a shameful thing to have to admit.
One of my earliest memories of Melbourne is lunch with my Nanna. I would have been about 8 at the time, and was staying with my cousins while I visited the big smoke on school holidays. They lived in the Commission flats in South Yarra back then, and Nanna lived with them. I can’t remember why, but for some reason my cousins were off with their parents that day, so I was home with Nanna. We took the tram up Church St, and wandered down Victoria St until we got to Minh Xuong. We both had roast duck soup noodles, and Nanna taught me to take out the duck and put it on a side plate so the slightly crispy skin wouldn’t get soggy, and so I could get to the noodles more easily, but to dunk the duck back in the soup before eating it, so it would warm up a bit after cooling on the side plate. Some memories etch themselves into your brain, and shape who you are. To this day, I prefer Minh Xuong for roast duck to any other place in Richmond. It might not even be objectively better than others, but it will always be my favourite.
Nanna recently moved into a nursing home. It’s been a troubling turn of events for the family, because traditionally, it’s just not the done thing in Chinese families, as the elderly are supposed to see out their days living with family. But with both of her sons living in empty nests, my Nanna became increasingly frustrated and bored, as she doesn’t speak or understand any English, and as a result rarely left the house on her own. So even though it goes against her beliefs and values, she came to grips to her situation and decided it was time for a change; to strike out on her own, in a manner of speaking. At 86 years young, I think this is a pretty awe-inspiring thing.
She’s been in the nursing home for three weeks, and seems to be liking her new home. She’s got more people to chat with, and has made fast friends with a Teochew couple who also live in the home. I don’ think I’ve actually ever seen her as chatty and light-hearted as when I visited her on the weekend. Maybe they’re dosing the residents up good there? So I’m happy that she’s happy, but it’s a bittersweet thing, seeing my Nanna living – albeit quite cheerfully – in a nursing home.
We went to Springvale, and not really knowing the area, I thought Nanna might have some tips. Alas, this wasn’t the case; I had forgotten that she doesn’t get out much. So we stopped in at a restaurant next to the one my cousin likes to go to, according to Nanna. We didn’t actually go into the one my cousin likes, because it looked too busy, and Nanna’s not into that. Which was fine with me, because Nanna’s pretty softly spoken, so a bustling restaurant would make conversation more difficult.
After perusing the menu – which has lots of pictures, thankfully, because Nanna doesn’t read English or Vietnamese – I settled on the bun bo Hue, which is fast becoming one of my benchmarking dishes. Perhaps it’s just because it’s winter, and many Vietnamese dishes seem quite summery to me.To be frank, it was a little disappointing. The broth was flavoursome, but the most striking flavour was that of the MSG. There wasn’t much else going on there, but this was partly made up for by the impressive array of meats in the bowl. Apart from the regular beef brisket, pork and cha lua (processed pork loaf), there were slices of a peppery beef sausage – similar to that found in a good pho bo dac biet – as well as a big chunk of pork knuckle, and a couple of cubes of congealed blood (see below).
Nanna was a little intimidated by the range of things on offer – and also hesitant to order anything too large, because apparently they’re given a lot of food to eat at the nursing home – so she went for a familiar classic: won ton noodle soup. Along with the won tons came four thick slices of char siu, which she put in my bowl, along with two of the won tons. I started to object, but she insisted that she wouldn’t be able to eat it all, and that she couldn’t chew the char siu with her falsies. Turned out that she needn’t have worried, because the char siu was pretty tender, and marinated well, with a nice sweetness to it. The won tons were alright, but could have dealt with a little more seasoning in the filling, I thought.So despite the lengthy drive out to Springvale, I think I’m going to visit my Nanna a lot more often in the coming days. Partly because I’ve been meaning to explore Springvale for years now, but mostly because I realised that I don’t really know my Nanna very well, and that’s a sad thing. This picture of her isn’t, though!