Adelaide’s Hanson Road is a broad industrial thoroughfare northwest of the CBD, and for the first few hundred metres, none of it screams ‘trendy food destination.’
At a small bank of shops home to restaurants Hoang Gia Quang and Viêt Hòa, the strip’s true identity as a Vietnamese food hotspot is revealed.
Behind the shopfronts, there are business owners young and old, who each recall the area’s grimier days and its growth since into an emerging foodie zone.
"We’ve become a lot healthier, so we enjoy more dishes that are fresher, with lots of vegetables, and that’s what Vietnamese food caters for.”
“The popularity of Vietnamese food has grown in maybe the last 10 years,” says Hanh Truong, whose husband Tung Vu co-owns restaurant Q Viet.
“Obviously the eating habits of everyone in Australia’s changed as well; we’ve become a lot healthier, so we enjoy more dishes that are fresher, with lots of vegetables, and that’s what Vietnamese food caters for.”
For all its heavy-duty traffic, there’s plenty of finer food discoveries to be made on Hanson Road.
After three years as an accountant, Son Nguyen took a cookery course and worked towards creating Viêt Hòa as an homage to his two favourite dishes: phở and cơm tấm.
“I like phở and I like broken rice. I like to eat it every day,” he says.
“You want to spend a lot of time and focus and effort and energy on a few dishes, trying to make it really good, like excellent, [rather] than having [a lot of] dishes.”
Of the short menu of beef noodle soups, the chef’s favourite is the beef fillet and brisket. The crunchy brisket option also has a cult following.
“That’s not something a lot of people would sell, because it’s like an offcut… but we like to sell it,” Son says.
“Either you like it or you don’t.”
Owner Chek Lav has run his business on Hanson Road for 30 years. His dad, Kheng Lav, visits the Pooraka produce market at 7am every morning, and Chek runs the butcher section at the back.
Chuan Phat Asian Grocery
For a pastry pit stop, some fresh vegetables and well-priced condiments, Chuan Phat has the goods. Owner Chek Lav has run his business on Hanson Road for 30 years.
His dad, Kheng Lav, visits the Pooraka produce market at 7am every morning, and Chek runs the butcher section at the back. After a quick chat with Chek, we pick up a bánh tieu and continue our journey.
Chefs Tung Vu and Long Dinh met while Tung was working in Long’s other Vietnamese venue, Café Saba in Adelaide’s eastern suburbs.
Tung is busy in the kitchen, but his wife, Hanh Truong explains the concept as a “more traditional” take on Vietnamese cuisine than its Norwood sister.
“We’re incorporating a lot more of the traditional dishes. For example, we’ve got the fermented fish soup here, bún mắm, and that’s a very traditional and acquired taste,” she says.
“And one of the signature dishes here as well is the crab meat drop noodles dish, [bánh canh cua], and you don’t see a lot of that around the area.”
Before we leave Q Viet, Hanh tips us off about a Hanson Road restaurant serving dishes from central Vietnam, like mì Quảng – a yellow rice noodle soup with a broth laced with turmeric.
Viet Lantern’s founder, Phuong Thao, comes from Quy Nhơn in central Vietnam, and her menu also incorporates dishes from northern Vietnam, like chả cá lã vọng and bún đậu mắm tôm.
Thanh Long Vietnamese Rolls
There is no shortage of banh mi dispensaries on Hanson Road (or anywhere in Adelaide), but this cheery yellow shopfront is the last culinary stop heading north on Hanson Road, and the logical end point to a Hanson Road Vietnamese food tour.
“Pork and crackling, and grilled chicken. It’s all good,” laughs owner Chyna Nguyen when we ask for a menu recommendation.
Thanh Long services the local industry and government workers on lunch break, so you’ll be in and out with great efficiency.
Dai Phat Oriental Grocery
Inspired by our travels, the actual last stop on our pilgrimage is the enormous Asian cash and carry, Dai Phat.
The butcher and grocery sections are expansive and cater to the desires of the local Vietnamese community. Should you need to fit out a restaurant, there’s a range of kitchenware, tableware, tables, chairs, and (just in case) large ceramic garden ornaments also for sale.
Follow our Vietnamese food crawl from the south of Australia to the north. Next stop, Sydney, NSW. 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.
The beautiful edible flowers in this dish are the specialty of the Central Highlands of Vietnam.
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.