• Plenty of nước chấm to go around. (Camellia Aebischer)
Skip the city and spend an afternoon in Melbourne’s east enjoying banh mi, chips with red curry aioli and a killer bánh xèo.
By
Camellia Ling Aebischer

4 Dec 2019 - 5:28 PM  UPDATED 4 Dec 2019 - 5:44 PM

For a Vietnamese culture vulture, the suburb of Footscray in Melbourne’s inner-west is a shining light of culture, shopping, dining and entertainment. For those visiting, schlepping west from anywhere further than the CBD might be a barrier to regularly enjoying a crisp plate of bánh khọt or fresh banh mi.

Thankfully, a miniature (but still bourgeoning) Vietnamese mecca, known as Little Saigon, exists a little closer to town on Victoria Street in Richmond, just east of the CBD.

The major thoroughfare has plenty of tram lines running through it for easy access, and houses a majority of eating and drinking experiences on the main strip running along Victoria Street between Hoddle Street and Church Street (the street runs all the way across the top of Melbourne from east to west).

If you've got an afternoon to spare, here are a few spots to get you started:

Nhu Lan Bakery

Arrive at Victoria street on lunchtime and your portable snack needs will quickly be met by Melbourne-famous banh mi. Nhu Lan Bakery has both a Footscray and Richmond outpost where you can find crisp bread rolls stuffed with pork cold cuts, barbecue chicken or pork, or pork meatballs alongside pate, mayo, pickled veg and herbs for just a few dollars.

Not in the mood for a sandwich? Try buttery savoury pastries called banh pate, or a selection of sweets.

Not just sandwiches
What to get at a Vietnamese bakery besides banh mi
The banh mi is the perfect sandwich, but there are many more delicious pastries and desserts to try at your favourite Vietnamese bakery.

Minh Phat Grocery

Continue your afternoon by browsing the aisles of an Asian grocer. This subtly enormous Asian supermarket looks like a mini-mart from its façade, but notice how far back the building stretches and you’ll soon realise you can find nearly everything in here from fresh dumpling wrappers to Pixian doubanjiang.

Wander past the freezer section upstairs to the loft for a mecca of kitchenwares, pots, serving plates, and more.

You could spend hours browsing the shelves of Minh Phat.

The day could end here if you choose to head home with a bag full of groceries and a new pot, but there’s plenty more to browse if you stick to the suburb.

Pick up some dumpling wrappers
Dumplings (Mi sui cao)

Mi sui cao is very similar to a dumpling or wonton. Luke learns from the Great Aunties about the secret recipe and style techniques.

Chefland

This one is for a niche market of interests. If you’re the kind of person that can’t resist a kitchenware store and has always been fascinated by commercial cookery, Chefland is a wonderland awaiting your patronage.

The modest store is stacked very efficiently with chopping boards and stock pots from single-serve to catering level, and tiered steamers to steam buns by multiples of 10. There are also plenty of handy Asian and Western cookery tools that aren’t as easy to come by and nearly everything comes in a range of sizes to suit any job.

Roll your own
Beef fondue rice paper rolls

Luke uses fresh ingredients bought from the Old Markets to create a dish that gets everyone involved as each person rolls their own rice paper roll.

The National Hotel

This smart-casual pub sits further East on the street, a stone’s throw away from the bustle of Vietnamese eateries and mini-marts. Luckily it hasn’t lost its roots and pays homage to its Victoria Street location with a menu of pan-Asian flavours.

Stop in for a pint and pre-dinner snack of crispy squid, bun cha or fries with red curry aioli.

Plenty of nước chấm to go around.

Thanh Ha 2

Once you’ve finished up that tap-poured craft beer it’s time to wander back toward the west and try to snag a table at Thanh Ha 2. Even on a Monday the place is bustling, but turnover is quick so you’ll be sipping a bottle of 333 and enjoying bánh xèo in no time.

Pay no attention to the novel-sized menu, all you need to do is order from is the very first page labelled ‘Thanh Ha 2 Specials’.

You’ll see plates of the bánh xèo and bánh khọt on nearly every other table, so it’s safe to say you'll want to order at least one of these or risk food regret.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, there's no Thanh Ha 1.

Cravings?
Crisp pancakes with tiger prawns and prawn floss (banh khot)

This is one of Luke Nguyen's all-time favourite street foods. These crispy pancakes are served with the obligatory and sensational nuoc cham dipping sauce.

Follow our Vietnamese food crawl from the south of Australia to the north. Next stop, bánh tráng in Brunswick, VIC. For an on-the-ground 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.

Vietnam at home
Vietnamese chicken rice (Com ga)

In almost every corner of Hoi An you can see vendors selling chicken rice. The most common style of chicken rice is torn with your fingers, as Luke does with his dish.

 

Vietnamese pork meatballs (Bánh mì xíu mại)

Most mornings in Dalat, people eat this beautiful, light, clean dish for breakfast.

This Sydney eatery serves deep-fried Vegemite-cheese banh mi and Vietnamese pizza
The newest Bau Truong outpost at Darling Square is a fascinating collaboration between a mother schooled in traditional cooking and a son keen to push the boundaries of Vietnamese food.
Introducing Melbourne to the fun of a Vietnamese beer hall
Bia Hoi is all about fun: get your mates together, grab a few beers and cook your meal on BBQ tables and steamboats.
Coffee cupcakes

This recipe calls for Vietnamese brewed coffee, which uses a stainless steel filter, but if you can't source one, regular coffee will do.

Vietnamese chicken coconut curry with lemongrass

If your favourite Sunday roast chicken and vegetables got an aromatic curry makeover, this would be it. 

Vietnamese fried spring rolls

These spring rolls are great to whip up for a party, or as a crispy topping for Vietnamese noodle salads.