• The soup is served with a salad which is mixed in before eating . (Dominic Ryan)
An 80 kg beef bone and a boiling pot big enough to swim in, making bun bo hue is no picnic.
By
Dominic Ryan

19 Dec 2019 - 9:47 AM  UPDATED 8 Jan 2020 - 4:05 PM

One stop on the train before Sydney’s infamous Vietnamese food hub, Cabramatta, NSW, lies Canley Vale, the city’s lesser-known, yet just as-worthy, centre of Vietnamese cuisine.

It may not have the grand arch or be adorned with lanterns, but what it does have is Trieu Phu Quan and Xuan Bach Le, best mates and co-owners at Gia Hội, one of the main street’s Vietnamese restaurants in neighbouring Canley Heights.

“When we studied together, we did a project about running a business and ours was to open a restaurant,”

The pair, from Ho Chi Minh City in southern Vietnam, met while studying hospitality together at TAFE in Sydney where a special friendship, and a business dream, blossomed.  

“When we studied together, we did a project about running a business and ours was to open a restaurant,” tells Trieu Phu, Gia Hội’s head chef. Two years ago, they turned their assignment and their vision into a reality when the pair took over running the local institution, taking it into its 15th year.

Trieu Phu (left) and Luan Bach took over the restaurant after meeting at a TAFE course.

The restaurant’s menu has all the usual suspects, including a few Thai-Vietnamese fusion dishes. But the one that makes Gia Hội famous is its bun bo Hue, a vermicelli noodle soup from the centre of the country (Hue being the city from which it earns its name).

Integral to the dish are the aromatic lemongrass, sate chilli paste and a touch of shrimp paste, the three flavours setting bun bo Hue apart from its spotlight-stealing brother, phở.

“We get a few Australians, but when they come here, they just want phở,” 

Vietnamese cuisine has seen an enormous surge in popularity amongst Australians in the past decade, but these restauranteurs lament that it mostly centres around phở and banh mi pork rolls.

“We get a few Australians, but when they come here, they just want phở,” says Le.

“That’s why we want to make our bun bo Hue so nice, so that more people try it and love it,” adds Quan.

It all begins in an enormous vat, big enough to fit a grown man, and the all-important 80-kg beef bone used to make the stock. At Gia Hội, small isn’t an option: they serve their infamous bun bo Hue for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The soup is scented with lemongrass and spices in a smaller pot before serving (Dominic Ryan).

“The soup must boil for eight hours,” explains Quan. It’s then transferred to a smaller pot where spices and lemongrass are added and boiled on a low flame. “If you use a strong fire, it makes the soup too salty and dark coloured.”

The noodles are then dunked into hot water to soften and topped with pork sausage, sliced beef shank, blood jelly and the infused soup. This is then served alongside a fresh salad, which is traditionally stirred into the bun bo Hue and eaten together.

The soup is served with a salad which is mixed in before eating (Dominic Ryan).

“[It’s] a bowl overflowing with flavour, spiciness and umami,” explains star Vietnamese-Australian chef Luke Nguyen. “These are the pillars of Hue cuisine.”

On a visit to the city, Nguyen discovers that the shrimp past, or Mắm Ruốc, is what qualifies it as Hue food. “Down south in Saigon, they would use the fermented anchovy paste, but in Hue it’s always shrimp paste.”

“The cuisine in Central Vietnam is considered some of the best in the country, so I just had to discover what the locals of Hue were cooking.”

For Quan and Le, preparing their country’s food for Sydneysiders wasn’t always in their sights.

“In our culture, only the women do the cooking,” says Quan. “If a man walks in to help, they’ll tell him to get out, so my mum was really surprised to hear that I started a restaurant.”

Nowadays he shares his food with his mum whenever he returns to his homeland and she even visited for his first few weeks on the job at Gia Hội to give a motherly seal of approval.

“Everything in Cabramatta closes early,” explains Le. “So the teams there close their restaurants and then come here to eat dinner.”

As the duo prepare for each day’s impending dinner rush, they know they’ll have some tough critics at their tables. The dinner crowd here often includes groups of chefs who flock to Gia Hội after finishing work in their own establishments nearby.

“Everything in Cabramatta closes early,” explains Le. “So the teams there close their restaurants and then come here to eat dinner.”

With such an endorsement, Gia Hội is ready to bring bun bo Hue to the masses.

 

Follow our Vietnamese food crawl from the south of Australia to the north. Next stop, Perth. For an on-the-ground Vietnamese food crawl catch the new series of Luke Nguyen’s Railway Vietnam where he travels from the south to the north of the country, chatting, tasting and cooking along the way. Watch it 7:30pm on SBS and Sundays at 9pm on SBS Food from 5 2019 December to 30 January 2020 or on SBS On Demand.


Gia Hoi Canley Heights

230 Canley Vale Rd, Canley Heights, Sydney 2166

02 9723 7324


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