Thang from Noodlies ran a competition recently for food bloggers to accompany him on a food tour of Cabramatta. My charm and wit won me a spot (winners were obviously chosen at random) and saw me venturing west. Cabra style.
Admittedly a bit of a novice when it comes to Vietnamese food, I have walked away from the day rattling with new information and brimming with a new appreciation for this fresh, resourceful and intoxicating cuisine. It’s common for Vietnamese restaurants to focus on mastering particular dishes, and by specialising in their chosen dish they become virtual pho-deity’s, and pork-roll-diviners. It may seem an ill fated business model to pigeonhole oneself, however when you realise that the local community eat out for 1-2 meals per day, you understand how the food vendors can both focus on their specialities and keep their prices down: volume.
To me food creates community; providing, sourcing, planning, preparing, digesting and discussing food creates the strongest of links in society between people from all walks of life. Our Cabramatta food tour brings this sentiments home to me time and time again throughout the day. Our tour group comprises of foodies from 7 ethnicities, an age gap of 40 years, and (I’m guessing) a 6 figure salary range. We smile on a hundred different faces throughout the day and every smile tells me of pride of their produce, eagerness to share their knowledge with us and happiness to welcome us into their family businesses. They want to share their story, and their story is food.
Pho is surely the best known Vietnamese dish, and a fitting place to begin the day. We slurp ours in 30 year old establishment Pho Viet, and I can pho sure see why this is one of the best in vendors in Sydney. I get a bath sized bowl of pho tai; a pho which is served with wafers of raw beef that cook in the broth before my eyes. Accompanied by basil (rip it to release more flavour) and bean sprouts that you dump in the broth as desired, and a medley of hoisen and chilli sauce, this soups flavour can be summed up in one word: fortifying. This is the soup I would request prior to setting out to climb Everest, it tastes of home-cooked goodness in a way that only your mum’s best flu-fighting soup does.
#2 Pork Roll
Vinata’s Hot Bread owners delight us with frankly the best pork roll I’ve ever had. Adverse to previous greasy experiences this roll has the goods: carrots that are only lightly pickled, leaving their crunch is intact; enough coriander to satisfy an addict; sweet pork pate AND caramelised roasted pork pieces; shallots a plenty; all encased is a large crusty bun that is soft in the middle. And the kicker? $4.00 for this bread encased marvel.
You can see the whole blogger group review the pork roles in the below video.
#3 Sugar Cane Juice
Thu Phung is a must stop for sugar cane juice, this elixir is finished of with hint of citrus which helps its sweet flavour finish cleanly. It’s served with loads of ice and I suspect it would be a hit with a nip or two of gin. You pay just $2.50/$4 for a small/large serve.
#4 , 5 and 6 Spring Rolls, Pancakes and Fish Curry
Next up we are welcomed to Bau Truong, where we meet the chefs behind three incredible dishes. Goi Cuon are familiar; fresh spring rolls made with rice paper. These rolls have prawn, coriander, basil and spinach and are served with a decadent hoisen sauce. Banh Xeo are Vietnamese savoury fried pancakes, they are crispy and moorish and you can taste a generous amount of tumeric in the batter. Their oily crunch is balanced by being served with fresh lettuce leaves and basil with which you make this tricky ‘sandwich’ and try your best to stuff it in you mouth before you wear it. I actually dropped a prawn in my handbag mid bite, thankfully my dining partners forgive my food throwing: it’s my first Banh Xeo experience after all.
Lastly, and most memorably, comes Ca Zuc Banh Trang. This is a dish. This is a dish to end all dishes. Essentially a thick fish curry served on black sesame encrusted fried rice paper, this dish is heavenly and my words will not do it justice. I liken it to a freshened-up version of a massaman curry. Think creamy peanut flavour with tiny diced onion, shrimp paste, tamarind, chilli and lemon-grass cooked down to a firm paste which hugs small pieces of ling fish. A family recipe, one which I’ll likely never be able to recreate but am bound to spend much time attempting.
#7 and #8 Custard Puffs and Juice
We collect some desserts on the go from Ngoc Duc Takeaway & Desserts and settle at our final destination, Cafe Nho. Not usually much of a sweet tooth, I am convinced by the Banh Sua, a custard filled choux pastry and these accompany my orange and passion-fruit juice nicely.
I summon the energy to revisit the wonderful food stores to pick up some fresh and cheap herbs and vegetables before plonking myself on the city bound train. Hideously full and on the brink of a food coma, I find myself planning my next visit to Cabramatta, perhaps bringing a little food-restraint with me next time.
Mel from The Pickled Cumquat, @pickledcumquat
Raff from Ramen Raff, @ramenraff
Daniel from Nanika Nomimashoo, @deeseebeaucoup
Veronica from From Across the Kitchen Table
Anna from Adobo Downunder, @bambiman
Adam from Foodspotting, @adamgdunn