I am tuned in to anything Vietnamese at the moment, since returning from my beautiful trip there recently. Cabramatta is the centre of all things Vietnamese in Sydney so it was just a matter of time before I ventured out there to stock up on all the goodies I discovered while travelling.
A bit of internet research later and I had a great itinerary of food discovery, starting with what has been voted Sydney’s best phở.
Phở is a rich broth of beef (phở bò) or chicken (phở gà) and hails from Hanoi, in northern Vietnam, where I tried a very good example of it on the street. Full of rice noodles and meat, and topped with chilli, onion, spring onion, bean sprouts, herbs, lemon and sometimes if you are lucky, quay (fried breadsticks, I think that is the name!), it’s consumed all day long, but mainly for breakfast.
At Pho Tau Bay (12/117 John Street, enter via Hill St) a very generous serve of phở costs ($10) and I chose bo – with raw beef and beef tendon. I dressed it with lemon juice, herbs, chilli and sprouts and tucked in. I was conscious of the day of eating I had planned so I didn’t finish the bowl, but I can understand why the Vietnamese have it for breakfast – I think a bowl would keep me going all day. I also ordered a glass of lemon juice, sugar and soda ($3.50), set to be my favourite drink this summer.
Next stop was the fruit and vegetable shop. I wanted to buy a green papaya to make a salad I had learnt in Hoi An, so I wandered around this shop to see if I could find one. The signs were giving nothing away (except ironically the ones in the pictures above!) so I had to ask “do you sell green papaya?”. “Yes, over there” was the reply so in the end it was a bit of guess work. Herbs were 50c a bunch and so fresh and it just makes you realise the quality that is out there if you look a bit further than the supermarkets. Everyone was very interested in what I was cooking, there were a few conversations while I was waiting in line.
Time for coffee and a trip to Cafe 86 (4/29 John Street). Fun fact…the previous owners were chef Luke Nguyen’s parents. If any of Cabramatta felt just like sitting in a laneway in Vietnam, it was this place. It was full of blokes sitting around smoking and playing checkers, punctuated by Vietnamese chit chat and phone calls. I ordered an iced coffee (cà phê đá) and it came with a complimentary tall glass of jasmine tea. My coffee was strong, sweet and addictive and the waitress asked if I liked it. I said “yes, loved it, I love Vietnamese coffee” to which I’d like to think she gave me a look of respect!
It was time for a wander around the back streets to get a feel for life in Cabramatta. Florists, butchers, bakeries with banh mi outside, juice shops serving sugar cane and coconuts, supermarkets and the beautiful Friendship Arch.
Last stop was the very friendly and helpful Eastland Supermarket (109 John St) where I bought rice noodles, rice paper, pandan tea, Trung Nguyen coffee and some delicious coconut jelly treats for dessert. I’m already planning my next trip for Pho Tau Bay!
Street photography by James Marten-Coney, food photography by me.