As a person of Vietnamese background, I would voice the usual opinion that a mother’s cooking is better compared to eating (Vietnamese food) out.
But when I do happen to eat out, here’s a few places that I’d recommend. To try authentic Vietnamese food, you’ll have to leave all preferences for atmosphere and ambience at the door. If you’re looking for good Vietnamese food, that’s what you’re going to get – no frills attached.
Pho Hung Vuong: Shop 2/15 Balmoral Avenue, Springvale
A favourite and popular joint amongst the shops in Springvale, this place is small but always packed and busy.
My parents once said if you’re going to eat pho out, you have to eat it at a shop that specialises in pho for it to be good (ie. not serve much else). Another thing they’ve taught us is that it’s all about the soup.
It’s always been a challenge to find pho that tastes just as good as my mum’s and I do feel that it is because of the fragant, flavoursome soup. However, Pho Hung Vuong proves that it is possible. I believe it’s because they brew their broth the same way that anyone would do at home, with various bones and herbs simmering in it, and have happened to figured out a consistent combination to satisfy the masses. On the other hand, my mum’s can taste a bit different every time.
It looks like your typical quick and straightforward Asian restaurant. You go in, sit down, order your meal and it will come out in a matter of minutes. It has the usual pho options (chicken, beef, beef balls) and I almost always go for the pho dac biet (special pho, above). The sizes generally range from about $7 or $8 up to $10.
There’s very little difference in price but in terms of size, even a small is generous enough to fill you up. Special pho has a little bit of everything – beef slices, tendon, tripe…I find that it is the solution to indecisiveness when ordering pho.
Pho is such a warming food, quite literally and figuratively. You know you will receive it quickly when you’re hungry, and it will be filling and of good quality at Hung Vuong. The soup is full of flavour, slightly sweet, and then everyone has their own preference of how to eat it thereon. Me? I enjoy a touch of chilli sauce, as much lemon as I can squeeze and lots of beanshoots and herbs. Pretty much everything I can to ensure it’s packed with flavour and exudes a pleasant and fragrant smell.
According to Urbanspoon, Pho Hung Vuong is open everyday. I don’t doubt this as I’ve even dropped in on public holidays to satisfy my pho cravings.
Song Huong: 71 Alfrieda St, St Albans
Who knew I could talk about pho for so long? Well if pho is all you associate with Vietnamese food, think again. We like our noodle soups and have a wide variety, so don’t be afraid to try the other ones. Each dish has a distinct taste, so I’ll let you in on two more.
Song Huong is similar to Pho Hung Vuong in that it is typically bland in decor as most fast, Asian places are. However, when seated you will be presented with an extensive menu of rice and noodle dishes. Their restaurant is also much larger, the size of two small shops combined, plus some outdoor seating.
On this occasion, I ordered bun rieu (top picture, bottom dish), a crab and tomato vermicelli noodle soup often with ingredients such as tofu and Vietnamese ham. I’ve tried my friend’s mum’s version of this dish and enjoyed it, thus was looking forward to having it at this popular westside restaurant.
It looked delicious, but I felt the soup was not as strong as what I’m used to. The flavour felt a little diluted compared to what I’ve had. Perhaps it could have had a bit more of a tomato taste. I can’t say it was bad, because without something to compare it to, I would probably enjoy it without a doubt. This is merely a case of it not tasting as good as a homemade meal!
I also ordered an avocado smoothie, a popular Vietnamese drink that I actually only discovered in Sydney. It tasted fresh, smooth and rich in avocado flavour, but for some reason I have a feeling the Sydney one tasted it better!
Just as Pho Hung Vuong is known for their pho, Song Huong is apparently quite well-known for it’s bun bo hue (above), a spicy beef noodle soup, using thicker, cylindrical noodles. This time, I felt like I couldn’t leave without trying their specialty.
A MASSIVE serving was presented and it didn’t disappoint, with the soup quite spicy. If you keep up to date with my blog, I’m quite weak in that department. My mum doesn’t make this one, so I can’t really compare with homemade meals and cannot determine whether it’s the best BBH around, as others proclaim.
It was such a generous amount of soup that I couldn’t finish it all (for once). It was also served with an abundance of ingredients such as pig’s blood (brown, rectangular chunks – not visible in the photo) that you either will or will not like. To me, it doesn’t really taste like much but I find the texture a bit strange – like jelly, but softer.
For dessert, we just went with a classic banana fritter that I couldn’t fault. We also ordered a lemonade, which we enjoyed as it was freshly made. This seems to be a good feature of their drinks. Since trying here, another friend has also said the pippies in XO sauce are quite good, so give them a try!
Not sure of their trading hours – the trouble with Asian restaurants, is the lack of their information online! Check their Urbanspoon for more reviews.
Laverton Rubble & Riches Market: Leakes Rd, Laverton
This one is a bit left of centre, as it is not a proper restaurant but rather a permanent stall at the weekend Laverton market. Their section usually has a fair share of seating area and they seem to have quite a large temporary kitchen for a weekend stall.
Don’t let the plastic chairs and takeaway atmosphere deceive you or put you off, as they are actually quite good and surprisingly serve quite a range of dishes from congee to banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich/baguette).
Whilst my friend had the bun bo hue (top right), which was full to the brim with excellent spicy broth, I went with xoi (sticky rice) with chinese sausage, egg, herbs and fried shallots. (Please ignore our Greek donuts in the middle!)
We also ordered the classic ca phe sua da or Vietnamese iced coffee. Needless to say these were downed quickly as well as the xoi, so much that we ordered another tub. For those who aren’t familiar with sticky rice, this one will look quite similar to normal rice but a bit more transparent. It clumps together, is a little harder and can have a bit of a sweeter taste depending on the dish. For these reasons I also find it a lot more filling. Thus, combined with the ingredients mentioned earlier, it makes a wholesome and interesting meal.
Laverton Market is open every weekend 7am-4pm.
So hopefully this post has revealed some good Vietnamese places and dishes to eat. Where are your favourite Vietnamese places in Melbourne? (And please do not tell me Westernised-Asian dishes such as lemon chicken or Mongolian beef are your favourite Vietnamese dishes!!)