Family cha gio feast

From time to time, I go over to my grandma’s place, where my mother and my aunts will have cooked up some Vietnamese or Chinese feast, which usually involves copious amounts of one or two dishes. This time it was cha gio (Vietnamese spring rolls) and grilled beef wrapped in betel leaf. Both are eaten wrapped in lettuce leaves, along with some cucumber, rice vermicelli and various herbs. There were two dipping sauces, the nuoc mam cham (fish sauce prepared with lemon juice and sugar), or a more pungent, fermented fish sauce which my family just referred to as mam.

Vi’em Cafe

345 Victoria St, Abbotsford
Phone: 9421 5227

I recently met up at Vi’em Cafe with a couple of ex-expat friends whom I’d met in Viet Nam. I suggested the place because I’d been introduced to its existence by Joyce through her search for the best rice paper rolls in Victoria St. I’d been there once myself, and the rice paper rolls were indeed great, and the bun thit nuong was pretty good too! That, and I took the waitress’ laughter at my attempts to speak Vietnamese as a challenge to come back.

We started off with the obligatory rice paper rolls with grilled pork (I forgot to photograph them!) which were, again, wonderful. Still-warm slices of grilled, fatty pork, wrapped in fresh goodness.

For mains, we shared more grilled pork (because we obviously hadn’t had enough) and the soft-shelled crab (we went the pepper and salt option). Both dishes were tasty, if a little over-salted, and between three of us, we could barely finish them (with rice, of course).

Vi’em does remind me a lot of Sai Gon – the crazy fans on the ceiling, the water feature, the indoor/outdoor courtyard feel, the waitresses who laugh at you, the sporadic service – and while the food is good, I found it a little pricey for Vietnamese food ($15-30 for mains). You can get similar quality fare at cheaper prices along the Victoria street strip. That’s not to say Vi’em is bad value, there is just better. When I mentioned the place to my aunt (who lives in Richmond, used to own a restaurant on Victoria St, and has probably eaten at most of the restaurants) her first response was that she thought it was expensive. Expensive is relative, I guess.

Vi'em Cafe Authentic Vietnamese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tan Truc Giang

36A Leeds St Footscray VIC 3011 – (03) 9689 9509
Open Mon-Sat 9am-8pm

NB – update 30 Dec 2013: Truc Giang is now under new management. I haven’t been back yet.

I stopped in here for a quick lunch with my parents in between weekend errands. The food on display certainly was enticing:

I’d like to think it was just because we chose poorly, because what we were presented with was a little lackluster. I had the broken rice with a fermented prawn version of the steamed egg pate (mam trung) and braised tofu with pork and prawns on the side. The tofu, pork and prawn dish was flavoured well, but altogether too tough.

Dad had some tomato-stewed prawns, and braised basa cutlet, with rice. Again, the prawns were too tough. I think the (quite open) use of microwaves might be to blame here. But at $10 per serve, that’s a little poor, if you ask me.

Mum ordered the ‘house specialty’, Bun Mam (rice vermicelli with fermented fish stock) which didn’t arrive until about 15 minutes after our rice dishes, and even then that was only after prompting. Also, it didn’t resemble any Bun Mam we’d ever seen – there was a distinct lack of fermented fish flavour. It looked more like Hu Tieu Nam Vang to me.

As I said, though, I like to think we perhaps chose poorly on this occasion, as all of the grilled meats and the spring rolls looked very delectable behind the glass. I’ll be back, but I’ll try something else next time. The banh mi station looks like a good option.

Truc Giang on Urbanspoon

Pho Tam

1/7-9 Leeds St
Phone: (03) 9687 2680

This is a pretty typical Vietnamese restaurant in Footscray. And I know it’s bad practice to post a negative review based on one visit, but it was pretty average. The food was OK – I had the com tam dac biet (broken rice special – with grilled pork chop, shredded pork skin, fried egg and steamed egg pate). The rice was quite obvously reheated, the pork chop was a little tough, and the pate didn’t have enough pepper in it for my liking.

The lady running front of house – I think she was the owner – seemed more intent on chatting on the phone than remembering to bring me my lemon soda. It finally arrived after I asked again for it, and as I was finishing my meal.

Like I said, it’s probably not all that fair – they might have been short-staffed or having an off day – but this place was pretty average. And in an area with such a high density of good Vietnamese restaurants, being average is pretty poor, really.

Pho Tam on Urbanspoon

Banh xeo – made by me!

OK, so this hasn’t actually been half-eaten. But I had to post something. I finally got around to making banh xeo – crispy Vietnamese crepes – my favourite Vietnamese dish. The first few were a bit disappointing, being a bit soft, but once I thinned the batter out, added a little more oil, and let the frypan superheat, we were in business! The filling in this one was mushrooms, beanshoots, mung beans and tofu (for the vegetarian guests) but the standard filling is whole (de-headed) river prawns, sliced belly pork, bean shoots and mung beans. My mum would be proud. And a bit jealous (she hasn’t quite figured out the crispy thing).

Pho dac biet at Little Saigon

258 Victoria St, Richmond
Phone: 9428 8288

Yup, yet another pho review. The soup was very tasty, but this was more a result of too much MSG than anything else. Good noodle to meat ratio, but there was a lack of peppery beef sausage, and the greens/shoots were a little on the stingy side. Not bad, but only go there if Pho Chu The is closed or full.

Little Saigon on Urbanspoon

Com tam suon bi cha trung at Dong Que

102 Hopkins St, Footscray
Phone: 9689 4392

I will admit to being drawn in by the photos of food in the window (which often is not a good move) but I was reassured by the breadth and presentation of the menu – a display folder with thick plastic sleeves, and photos of the specialty dishes.

The com tam (broken rice) was satisfactory, but not amazing. The pork chop was a little underseasoned, and the nuoc cham (prepared fish sauce) lacked punch. Points for a perfectly fried egg, and ample amounts of bi (shredded pork and pork skin).

From the look of the menu, perhaps I should have been a little more adventurous, but com tam is often a good benchmark for Vietnamese restaurants in Australia, I find.

Dong Que on Urbanspoon

Pho dac biet at Pho Dzung

234 Russell St, CBD

So I have this theory that regardless of what size you order, you get the same amount of pho, in a different sized bowl. This medium bowl is kinda overflowing with greatness.

Com tam suon bi trung at Pho Dzung

234 Russell St, CBD

It’s hard to go wrong with com tam (broken rice) and Pho Dzung certainly gets just about everything right. The pork chop was juicy and succulent, the bi (shredded pork/skin) was uber-fresh, and there was a goodly amount of pickled vegies on the plate. The egg was a touch over-cooked, but I do love a runny yolk, and l now I’m just being finicky. For $8.50, it’s almost the perfect lunch!

Pho Dzung City Noodle Shop on Urbanspoon