Sunday, May 31, 2015

Dosa Hut

Anyone remember "hit the hut" from Pizza Hut?

Growing up with one health freak and one culture freak for parents, hitting that particular hut was strictly verboten.  It therefore followed that as a child, it was all I ever wanted.  I remember on maybe my 12th birthday my dad saying I could go anywhere I liked for lunch - anywhere at all!  I know he wanted me to say Mask of China or wherever else was the "it" place in the early 90's.  I said - you guessed it - Pizza Hut.  He was horrified!

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Something must have rubbed off, though, as I now have zero interest in unlimited quantities of bad chocolate mousse and every interest in this particular hut, which I recommend you hit with vigour.  Meet Dosa Hut.

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Dosa Hut has been in Barkly Street for at least as long as I've lived in the area (9+ years).  Over that time they have expanded into the place next door, and continued to expand their menu into a greatest hits of South Indian cuisine.

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One of the best-known South Indian staples is dosa - very light, impressively huge pancakes made from a lightly fermented (like sourdough) rice and lentil batter.  They have crisp, burnished bottoms and are unflipped, making their top layer capable of soaking up all manner of delicious juices.  This was a nontraditional but particularly awesome dosa "filled" with Chicken 65...

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...which are battered chicken pieces in a sticky red sauce spiked with curry leaves.  It's an Indian spin on Chinese food, but instead of being dumbed down, it's amped up.  Spicy, rich, tangy - awesome.

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If that all sounds a bit much, start with the classic masala dosa.  This one is filled with a dry-ish potato dish made with peeled potatoes fried with spices.

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It's a classic and deservedly so.  The dosa come with a zesty, runny pickle, amazing coconut chutney and sambar.  If you like it a bit hotter, get the Mysore version, which has special chilli powder added.

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Sambar is a South Indian soup of sorts made with onion and other vegies (here, carrots), lentils, spices and tomato.  You spoon mouthfuls in between bites of dosa.

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Mango lassi are awesome.

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Dosa Hut's menu is voluminous.  If you don't know what things are, just ask - the staff are very friendly.  A few things I can tell you is rava dosa is a dosa made from semolina; uttapham is like a very thick pancake with toppings cooked into the top (kind of like a pan-fried pizza); the spring roll dosa is rolled up tight, almost like a burrito!  I have not partaken of the "Lindt chocolate dosa", but that sounds like a particularly worthwhile ordering experiment - and just as good as an all-you-can-eat dessert bar!

Dosa Hut
604b Barkly Street, West Footscray
Check out the menu here (Tarneit store, but as far as I can tell, the same as the WeFo one)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Quelque chose s'approche...


Remember this photo from a few weeks ago?

So it turns out, going front-to-back in Schaum's French Grammar is the worst possible way to revise (or learn) a language.  This book is drier than a box of stale Saos.

Rather than give up, I have been doing a lot of reading about the best way to learn languages.  Kató Lomb was a Hungarian female polyglot (speaker of 4+ languages).  At her death in 2003, she spoke 16 languages, most of which she learned in her 30s and 40s.  She was completely monolingual (Hungarian) until about the age of 24.  She insists there is no special "innate ability" or "gene" for languages, and that what makes one good at languages is your degree of passion and amount of available time, combined with your level of inhibition (ie, low inhibition - prepared to make a lot of mistakes/sound silly = good).

One of her tips is to create for yourself a "linguistic microclimate".  If you sit down with a tutor once a week and think "that's that", you will learn excruciatingly slowly.  Instead, think of what you do in English and do it in your target language.  So now I watch French music videos while I cook.  On long drives, I listen to French audiobooks, not English.  I write my shopping lists in French.   I changed my phone language settings so it's all in French.

I am constantly scanning my day for more ways to include French, to create my own personal "linguistic microclimate".  Basically, the best thing that could happen to me right now is if a small French bar opened in the neighbourhood.






Footscray, meet Stefan Armentano.  He is a French chef who has taken up a lease of one of the little shops in the old Royal Hotel redevelopment and is in the process of turning it into a bar/deli, modelled on the French "bars du quartier" or "community bars" - the little place on the corner where you can drop in for a glass of wine and maybe a bit of interesting cheese and ham, freshly carved.

"I've got this passion for cheeses," he said.  "It's a bit selfish - I'm opening a deli just to provide cheese to my kids!"  The idea is to have a fully-stocked deli that is open from about 11am-11pm, so you can stop in in the day and pick up some pâté, or stop in at night and eat said pâté with some wine.  (Or stop in in the day, and eat said pâté with some wine - I'm not judging!)

Menu-wise, you'll be able to have something from inside the cabinet, or "little French rural things" - Stefan's thinking beef tartare or duck confit.  Or a nice French sandwich where Stefan tells me butter isn't merely a spread, but is so thick and of such quality, it's considered a filling!

(It's the place with the whitewashed windows!)

Stefan plans for maybe two or three beers on tap, a good selection of wine and "a couple of good French calvados" (apple brandy).  His previous business was a tapas restaurant in Perth called Gypsy Tapas House.  Regarding Small French Bar, Stefan is very humble, saying that he wants it to be a place for "a good old cheese and a good old red", and only wants it to seat about 20 people.

Stefan and Small French Bar are currently chugging through the maze of building permits and licences.  The aim is to open sometime this year.  You can keep up to date on his Facebook page.  All I can say is - "Vite!  Vite!"  (Hurry!  Hurry!)

If you are learning a language and can point me in the direction of more good resources, whether online, offline, traditional or non-traditional, I'd love to hear from you!  For example, I recently discovered italki and am blown away; can't wait to get started!  I'm sure there are more good sites or blogs out there that I just don't know about yet.  Or if you speak/are learning French or Arabic, I would deeply appreciate some good music, good podcast or good online radio station tips.  Send me an email :)  Also, if you are interested in or work in languages or linguistics, I would also love to chat with you, whether just generally or to pick your brain about particularly well-regarded courses or directions within the industry.  Email addy to the right.  Massive TIA!

A bit of French music for you - I love this song, the lyrics and the video:

And I have been enjoying Sexion d'Assaut - really like this song, but the video is a bit random - I think they got sponsored by Smart cars!

If you are interested in Kato Lomb's book "Polyglot: How I Learn Languages", you can read it for free here or buy from Lulu.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Melbourne Market tour winner revealed!

Hi everyone - thank you so much for your fantastic entries to my first-ever giveaway!  I put out a call for "your best westie story - the one that just sums Footscray, or the inner west, up".  The winner gets two tickets to an upcoming tour of the Melbourne Wholesale Fruit & Veg Market.  I said I'd publish the winner today, and I will - plus a few more, because so many were just too good!

There was a real theme of history among many of your entries.  Roslin writes that:

"1995, 5 year old Roslin would get her hair cut at Forges by Marina, then navigate through the hustle and bustle of Footscray Market with her mum. Fast forward to now and 23 year old Roslin is eating her way through Footscray: Cannoli. Pho. Ethiopian. 8bit and more."


And from Lan:

"My mum used to work at the Asian grocers that's still on the corner of Hopkins and Moore St. As a little girl, dad would bring me with him when he went to pick her up from work. I remember waiting by the register with her whilst she finished her shift and watching people from all walks of life come in, have a little chat with Mum before taking their goodies home. Mum seemed to know everyone and many conversations revolved around what they were going to make with their ingredients. It was fascinating to hear the variety whilst I sat perched up on a stool having a durian or red bean ice cream! The things you learn growing up in the west!"


I loved Kate's Saturday morning Footscray ritual:

"My Saturday morning in Footscray - a sense of adventure in the air. I battle the masses at Nhu Lan for my beloved Tofu roll. A jump to Vy’s for my Vietnamese Iced-Coffee. A cheery ‘hello’ to the elderly street side vendors. A myriad of curious stores and restaurants longing to be explored. The vibe is unique and incomparable. I am energised and inspired!"


And I really feel Footscray's capacity to subvert your expectations in Georgia's entry:

"One of my most memorable moments in Footscray was with my Somali friend, her dressed in her colourful hijab and me in my traditional melbourne winter outfit of BLACK! We entered an Arabic store which looked like a shop which sold various foods and kitchenware of odds and ends. My friend suggested we enter and I was wondering what we would possibly buy here...  as we walked towards the back of the shop the heat and gorgeous cooking smells hit us and there was a man making fresh injera on a supersize pancake maker with his wife sorting and packing it for customers. We left with beautiful bread and me with the experience of a lifetime having met wonderful people and entered a world I would never have known existed."


Wendy got a peek into an "inner world" too, at Gold Leaf, Sunshine:

"Treating a visiting Nimbin hippy fresh off the plane, we eschewed Melbourne's CBD, instead heading for Sunshine (how could you not love a place with a name like that!) As the last diners sharing a very relaxed late lunch with wait staff, laughing as they all dived on the best trolley baskets for their own meal break... Only in the West!"


Kathryn apologised for offering four entries and told me clearly that if this was "overkill or cheating", to just consider her first entry.  Oh, but I love all of these little vignettes so much.  I love their honesty and the way they make me pause.

"Two African guys argue (something about rabbits) at Sunny Nguyen’s counter, while the Vietnamese lady serving looks nonplussed. Finally, one says to the other, ‘No, last year was Year of the Rabbit, this year it’s Year of the Snake, and after that, it’ll be something else.’ He looks at me and we exchange grins."

"A grizzled white man wheels a stunt bike along Footscray station, stopping to admire a pit bull (‘Fucken beautiful dog, pardon my French’) and tell me this joke. ‘You know the government’s changing the family subsidy - what do you call a white person with six kids? An entrepreneur!’ He grins. ‘It’s a good one, isn’t it?!’"


"Further up the Maribyrnong they sit in family groups, their fishing rods wedged into upright tubing, but this angler sits alone, holding his rod in gloved hands. Once he’d plunge carp into ice to banish the mud flavour from their flesh; now he throws them back, and his faded red bucket holds no ice, just river water."

"Overheard. Two men (one begging), Footscray station.
A: (Calmly, but becoming belligerent) No, no, no. I won’t. I won’t give you money so you can smoke. I won’t do it. What do you think you’re doing? It’s not right. I’m not gonna do it. I’m not. So don’t ask me.
B: (Quietly) Alright, mate."


But in the end, I am going to award the tickets to May, whose entry I felt was as bright and crisp as the snow peas she describes.

"As I inspected the snow peas at Little Saigon, a friendly member of staff approached holding a box above his head carefully, as if presenting Simba to the Sahara. Slowly, it tipped and rained crisp, glorious, snow peas into my waiting hands. I put on my war mask and went into battle as the vultures descended..."

Congratulations, May!  I hope you have an awesome time!  Thank you also to everyone who entered.  I loved reading your wonderfully diverse submissions.  Keep living and loving the west!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

GIVEAWAY - win two tickets to a tour of the Melbourne Wholesale Market!

Disclaimer:  I have two tickets to give away to a Food and Wine Festival event (more details in body of post).  I am not being paid or otherwise compensated to run this giveaway.  See below for full disclaimer.

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Image c/- Lauren Wambach

So sometime this year, a big part of the western suburbs is going to disappear.  It's the Melbourne Wholesale Fruit, Vegetable and Flower Market, which has been trading on the northern side of Footscray Road since 1969.  The market has been continuously trading, whether at Footscray Road or on other sites in the Melbourne CBD, since 1841.

Image c/- Melbourne Market Authority

The market is moving to Epping to a new purpose-built facility later this year.  I have two tickets to give away for a tour of the market, which is pretty much your last chance to check it out before it hitches a ride north!

African Taste and market 047
Image c/- Lauren Wambach

I did a tour of the wholesale market back in 2010 and loved it.  It's the point in Melbourne where produce changes hands from growers to retailers, and it is normally closed up tight to the general public.

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Image c/- Lauren Wambach

Says Karen Vella of the Melbourne Market Authority:  "Many of the local products are picked and placed on the shelves within 24-36 hours...  Market-sourced fruit and veg is the best way to get the freshest as the growers and retailers meet in one place, exchange goods and it’s then on the shelf all within one day."

Image c/- Melbourne Market Authority

The market is not only populated by growers, but by wholesalers too.  When I went on my tour, I remember a fascinating peek behind the scenes of a family-run, sixth-generation ginger wholesaler.  The great-great-great x 6 grandson had some wonderful stories and tall tales to tell about his family's life and work in the market over the years and down the generations.

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Image c/- Melbourne Market Authority

The two tickets I have to give away are for the tour on Friday 13 March, 6am-8am.  Karen Vella reports that "our tour operator Jan will be taking visitors around the market on a little train.  Visitors will have the opportunity to meet growers and wholesalers and see a wide range of produce.  Jan will talk about the trends of produce and show visitors different varieties including heirloom vegetables, newer Asian vegetables etc…

Image c/- Melbourne Market Authority

"Each tour will be different as it depends on the growers and wholesalers available on the morning. We will be providing a light breakfast and a take-home pack."  (PS:  You don't normally get this pack if you go on a regular tour - this is a Melbourne Food and Wine Festival special!)  See more details on the MFWF website here.

And how do I win these amazing tickets, you say?  Inspired by Ros's beautiful postcard from Footscray, I want to hear in 50 words or less, your best westie story - the one that just sums Footscray, or the inner west, up.

Here's an example:  I remember being at Rina's Coffee and Nuts in Footscray Market having a coffee with Annie, the owner.  There were two old guys there - one Southern European, one Asian - and we got chatting.  One was the acupuncturist to the other - he'd been treating him at his Footscray clinic for, like, 30 years - and they always went for a coffee and a chat at Rina's after.  Footscray in a nutshell.

To enter, email your story to by midnight, this Friday, 6 March.  I'll announce the winner on Monday, 9 March.  The winning story will be published on Footscray Food Blog (if you want to remain anonymous, that is absolutely fine - I'll check with you how you'd like to be credited before publishing).

PS:  I'm not going to count the words, so don't have a fit if you're a few words over!  You can also write about elsewhere in the west, eg, Sunshine, St Albans...  And if you miss out, I believe there are still tickets to the tour available - get 'em here.

Disclaimer:  The Melbourne Market Authority contacted me asking me to help promote their Food and Wine Festival event.  I suggested a giveaway of tickets.  I was motivated to do this because I genuinely believe the Melb. Wholesale Market is an important part of the west and soon it will be gone forever.  I attended one of their tours in 2010, paid completely out of my own pocket, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I am not receiving any financial or other compensation for running this giveaway.

Friday, February 27, 2015

A postcard from Footscray

I got the most lovely email the other day and felt it really encapsulated everything I love about Footscray.  I know I blog about the west, but reading through, I felt like I was seeing it with fresh eyes.  I couldn't wipe the smile off my face the whole email!  With the author's permission, I'd like to share it with you.  (I've added some links to the places either she or I refer to, and also some purty pics from my collection...)

Hi Lauren, Thanks so much for your reply...and don’t feel bad about the delay...  I can relate to that :-)
Thanks to your blog, I had the best day on Friday in the market and surrounds!  I drew myself a map and marked in all your suggestions, going first to the grocery market (your suggestion) across the road from the station...where I found the Red Boat fish sauce!  Sorry, can’t think of names and I’ve thrown out my bit of paper.
Pho from Hung Vuong Saigon, 128 Hopkins St, Footscray
As it was around midday when I arrived on the train from Geelong, I headed for the place you recommended for Pho (Huong Vien?)  Wow.  I had the beef & chicken one.  I’ll be back!
Then went looking for Mama Rosina’s, but couldn’t find it anywhere.  Never mind, found a little place selling grains and went in and asked them about Teff.  They told me I’d get it at Bharat Traders, 580 Barkly St.  As I was in Barkly St, I thought it can’t be too far.........!!!  Anyway, got my Teff...and found out I could get a bus back...thankfully! 
This was another lovely memorable part of my visit.  On the bus, I felt like I was a tourist in another country (not sure which one though...Vietnam, Nth Africa, India? :-) )  So many ladies offered me a seat beside them (taking pity on an elderly foreigner!)  I sat with a Vietnamese lady and struck up a conversation with her, then an Indian lady in the seat behind joined in, both offering to help with directions.  They were just lovely...  One of them even got off the bus with me and walked me in the direction of Mesnoy Bakery.
Meftuha from Mesnoy Injera Bakery "baking" injera at a festival in Footscray
So...I got my Injera!!  The two girls at Mesnoy were so friendly and helpful too.  When I showed them my Teff they rolled their eyes a bit and told me exactly what you said :-( * Never mind...think I’d already decided I wasn’t going to attempt it.  My son-in-law is going to though; he loves fermented stuff, so it won’t be wasted.
Anyway, I’ll try and shorten my story. I had a great time stocking up...well, as much as I could.  My fingers were nearly cut in half from the weight of my two shopping bags...and I had to get back to Southern Cross to catch the 6.30 train back to Swan Hill...finally home about midnight.  Put all but two pieces of Injera straight into dehydrator overnight.  Next morning, beautiful crisp Injera chips, which I’ve put in cello bags & sealed.
Misir wat (red lentils) at front left - I can't remember where I ate this but I wish I could!
For lunch on Saturday we had Injera (freshened in microwave), with the red lentil recipe that I found on Mesnoy’s website.  Yum!  But it was even better cold as a dip that night with Injera chips!!  Then on toast for breakfast yesterday morning!!  The recipe made heaps.  Half of it is in tubs in the freezer ready to have dip & chips again!! 
Can’t wait to go back...and take my husband.  Very doable from Swan Hill.  SH train passes through and stops at Footscray at about 10.30 am, then can pick it up again at about 6.45 pm without even having to go into the city!  What a day we’d have...BUT first stop next time will be to buy a shopping jeep...or two!! 
As you can probably tell...I’m still on a high! 
So...a big thank you again for introducing me to the culturally diverse culinary delights of Footscray! 

Thank you so much to Ros from Swan Hill for allowing me to share her delightful email.  She has really touched on everything that makes Footscray amazing.

* What I said re the teff was:  In terms of teff flour - it's not legal for export, so you cannot buy it.  The only exception is Bob's Red Mill which is an American company that produces teff flour (among others - coconut, amaranth etc).  It's available at health food shops and at Sims supermarket in West Footscray.  The catch is that that teff is apparently a poor grade so it's not very nice.  The Ethiopian community here in Melbourne don't use teff - they use combinations of corn, wheat, rice and sorghum flours to approximate the taste.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Ovest, West Footscray

"Ovest...  Now, why does that seem so familiar?"  I couldn't pick it.  Then it dawned on me - it's the name of Footscray Hospital's cafeteria!  As a friend said on Facebook yesterday, let's hope the name is the only thing the Ovests have in common!


But anyway, let's rewind.  This post is not about "hospital Ovest"; it's about "new upmarket pizzeria Ovest", which just opened last night in Barkly Street, West Footscray.


This is a partnership between Alex and Kate Rogers of Seddon's Sourdough Kitchen and Ben Sisley, ex-Mr Wolf, the Karen Martini-owned pizzeria in St Kilda.  It is patently obvious they know what they are doing.  Ovest has arrived fully formed, like some sort of incarnated being - at least from what we saw last night, there is no messy infancy here.


Loved this bresaola (air-dried beef) with huge fresh figs, vincotto, fresh mozz and rocket.  The bread is of course from Alex's other business, Sourdough Kitchen.  All the flour there and all the flour here is certified organic.


Zucchini fritters were gorgeous, with a non-oily breadcrumb-y crust just clinging to surprisingly juicy zucchini fingers.  A good swizzle through some "truffle mayo" and they were even better.


Look at that gorgeous thing, just rippling with prawns and tommies!  I've always been a bit unexcited by fancy pizza joints as they seem dear for what you get.  Twenty-odd dollars for dough and a smattering of toppings - but when the pizza is this good, it feels worth it.


Plus, Ovest's pizzas are big - if you have starters, you probably only need one between two.  If you want to be extra greedy, get a side like this lovely coleslaw with cabbage, pear, radish and lemon.

If you want to bypass the pizza, there's a tuna nicoise that looks the business, as well as pork and veal lasagne, cannelloni, and a daily roast special.  The kids menu is good value and a smart addition to a family-heavy area - your choice of lasagne, two pizzas or cannelloni plus ice-cream scoop for $12.  There is gluten-free pizza for $1 extra.


Ovest were almost full on opening night last night, which had not been publicised widely, so I would imagine they are only going to get even busier.  Queues in WeFo - who would have thought?

And as for "hospital Ovest"?  For all I know, they do a brilliant Friday lasagne special.  If you have a hot tip there - let me know!

572 Barkly St, West Footscray
9687 7766

Friday, February 13, 2015

Qua'n 888, Little Saigon, Footscray

What level Vietnamese diner are you?
Level 1: *crosses arms* "I don't eat chilli, seafood or garlic.  Or rice." (Thinks: Can't wait till this birthday/office dinner is over and I can go to Macca's on the way home.  Everyone knows when you eat Asian food, you're starving again an hour later!)
Level 2: *cracks open Fanta* "I'll have the beef in black bean and the prawn crackers.  Hey, darl, next week let's try the Vietnamese food at Laksa King, eh?" 
Level 3: *slurps iced water*  " don't know what I want.  What do you want?  *Flips pages helplessly*  Let's just get some spring rolls and rice paper rolls." (Thinks: Why do I always order the same things?  I need to try something different one day.
Level 4: *blows delicately on cup of free tea* "The Vietnamese pancake, please." 
Level 5: *swizzles cà phê sữa đá with long teaspoon* "The banh xeo, please." 
Level 6: *sips corn milk and smiles* "Tôi muốn bánh xèo."
Don't think I'm level 6.  I got that phrase off Wikipedia.  (Hopefully it doesn't actually mean "crazy hog mattress" or something equally bizarre, or rude, or embarrassing.)  Anyway, if you are a level 3 through 6 - ie, if you're willing to try something really different - I have an absolute treat for you.

Typical southern dish - hu tieu mi (at Phu Vinh, Footscray)

So you know how there is northern and southern Vietnamese food?  (Level 5s and 6s, of course you did.)  The south is mad for sweetness, seafood, and mountains of herbs, whereas northern dishes are supposedly plainer (although to me, they taste equally - if not more - amazing).

Typical northern dish - bun ca (at Sen, Footscray)

Typically southern dishes include hu tieu mi (rice/egg noodle soup with prawns and pork - see pic above) and banh xeo (giant, coconutty filled pancake) while the north specialises in bun cha Ha Noi (chargrilled pork pieces and patties with rice vermicelli), cha ca (fish seasoned with turmeric and dill and served with rice vermicelli), and bun ca (fish soup with dill, tomato and taro stem).

Typical northern dish - bun cha Ha Noi (at Sapa Hills, Footscray)

But there's another entire Vietnamese regional cuisine that often gets completely overlooked - central Vietnamese cuisine.   (Level 6s already knew that.)  To quote Jamie Feldmar in this Serious Eats article, "Central Vietnam has its own spicy, strongly-flavoured cuisine, distinct from the Chinese-influenced fare of the North and the light tropical flavours in the steamy South".  And Footscray now has a dedicated central Vietnamese restaurant for your dining pleasure.


Meet Qua'n 888, quite literally tucked away in Little Saigon market.  This newbie serves food from the central Vietnamese cities of Hoi An, Hue and Da Nang.


The banh xeo or Vietnamese pancake mentioned above is normally a giant crepe as long as your forearm, stuffed to bursting with mung beans, bean shoots, prawns and chunks of pork.  Apparently that is not "the" banh xeo, but southern-style banh xeo.

Banh xeo 888, $13.50

Here at Qua'n 888, the banh xeo is central style. That translates to these two fat, yellow little pancakes, not over-filled with prawns and bean shoots, plus herbs, two dipping sauces, and a really intriguing giant rice paper-wetting contraption.


What you do is set out your gridded plastic mat and then gently and quickly roll your rice paper around the thin yet deep reservoir of cool water in the rice paper holder.  Place the still quite hard sheet of rice paper on the mat.  Wait a minute or two and then start loading with 1/2 a banh xeo, herbs, rice vermicelli etc etc.  Level 4 and below should put less in to start with.  Level 5s and 6s can go to town right off the bat.


I won't explain here how to roll them up, but check out this YouTube video (I've started it at the "rolling" point).  Suffice to say the finished product should look something like this.


You can then go crazy dipping your roll in either the house-made special sauce (I tasted sesame?) or the classic nuoc cham seasoned fish sauce.  Want more chilli?  Get stuck into the pot of sambal oelek-style chilli sauce on the table - Qua'n 888 make it themselves.


At first I was not so crazy about the banh xeo pancakes themselves - they didn't have that super coconut flavour and delicate texture that, say, Co Do's have - but once you've got them in the roll, I see how they really work with all the other textures and flavours.  You've got the cool of the cucumber, the slippery rice vermicelli, the rich crunch and squidge of the pancake, plus a big dousing of the delicious dipping sauce (I preferred the nuoc cham with them) - you've just gotta try these.

Banh beo, nam, loc thap cam, $10

But what you really, REALLY have to try is the banh sampler.  I have an ongoing obsession with these varieties of steamed cake.  I order them whenever I see them (which is pretty much nowhere - Thanh Ha 2 in Richmond and Co Do in Sunshine spring to mind) - and I've always liked them.  But now I realise I've liked them in the way you might like a croissant from Baker's Delight, until you taste one from Lune.  THESE ARE OFF THE HOOK.


I've never seen the banh beo served traditionally like this in little dishes before and now I see why the best ones have to be contained - they are so delicate, like a rice custard almost.  They're topped with minced shrimp, fried shallots and peanuts.  Then there's the banh nam, a Vietnamese tamale of sorts - a delicate rice flour batter mixed with mushroom, prawns and pork.  So delicious.  Finally, banh loc, which I believe is tapioca flour with a bouncy, al dente texture (others I've had have tended towards gumminess - not here).  Inside hid pieces of prawn and pork like fossils in amber.  All were absolutely spectacular.

Goi du du kho bo, $7

I really liked this green papaya salad with beef jerky.  Sure, it didn't immediately punch you in the nose like some versions do (that's a compliment - sometimes that big rush of sweetness, herbs and chilli is exhilarating) but crept up on you slowly.  The dressing was quite muted, but I liked being able to really taste that rich, deliciously dry and almost feathery seasoned beef jerky, the little roasted peanuts, and all the delicately julienned papaya without just tasting "things" drowned in nuoc cham.

Goi mit tron, $7

Likewise, I really enjoyed this steamed jackfruit salad, which I've never had anything like anywhere in Melbourne.  Rather than being a maze of crunchiness like other Viet salads, the steamed jackfruit was tender, with bits of bouncy cooked prawn, bi (shredded pork skin) and julienned herbs.  You pile it onto the crackers like a Vietnamese tostada.  I shared this with my dad who thought it needed more kick, but I liked its humility.

Com ga Hoi An, $10

This is a special chicken dish from Hoi An - shredded chicken with a little cooked onion and herbs, with yellow rice, crunchy veg and a ginger dipping sauce.  Level 1s and 2s, if you are dragged here by some intrepid foodie, this is the one for you to order.  Level 3s, this might be a good place to start.  The chicken and rice were fine; the ginger sauce was delicious...but I am more interested in the really unusual dishes on the menu.

Nem lui, $10

More wrappy-rolly action with nem skewers.  Do these in exactly the same way as the banh xeo.  I didn't find the pork skewers particularly flavoursome but as with the banh xeo, once they are all tucked up with herbs, vermicelli and so on, the ensuing roll is really delicious.  I reckon this one goes perfectly with the sesame sauce rather than the nuoc cham.


The lovely owners taught my dad how to ask for "strong coffee" - ca phe sua da "dam" (said like "dumb", with a low tone) - and this was the delicious result.  And if you want to get some level 6 cred, try their sua bap or "corn milk", served in adorable peaked bottles.  I haven't gone there yet, but I will!


Here are the super lovely owners of Qua'n 888, sisters Katie and Donna (L-R, with Donna's gorgeous bubby in between).  They are originally from Da Nang and are very excited to share their regional specialties with you.  They are so friendly and I am sure will be happy to give you any eating tips.  Their dad comes in from time to time to help them out, so it's a real family business.


And you know, no matter how many bars, snazzy cafes or other tropes of gentrification manifest on the streets of the 'scray, it's THIS trend in Footscray's development that makes me the most excited.  Younger first- or second-gen Vietnamese-Aussies like Thu at Co Thu Quan, Ashton at HM Quan and Donna and Katie here at Qua'n 888 starting small, uncompromisingly authentic food businesses that make no attempt to dumb down their food at all - and nor should they when it tastes this good.

From Qua'n 888's Facebook page

Two new regional Hoi An dishes have just landed at Qua'n 888 - cao lau, which is a dish of BBQ pork, croutons, greens and maybe some bean shoots on top of special noodles that can apparently only be made with a special type of well water from Hoi An.  (Read more here.)  Katie had told me about the cao lau (the second picture above), but I'm mystified by the other new dish (the first picture above) called "mi ca atixo", which I think translates to fish with egg noodles and artichoke?!


So if you fancy levelling up in the Vietnamese diner stakes, head through the Ryan Street entrance of little Saigon and hang a right.  Sip that corn milk, that coffee or that tea (or all three!) and order up something you've never had before.  And I reckon even if you're a Level 6, you will find something on Qua'n 888's menu that is completely new - and delicious - to you.

Qua'n 888
Shop 24, Little Saigon Shopping Centre, Ryan and Leeds Streets, Footscray
Hours:  Roughly 10am-5pm daily (sometimes later on Friday and Saturday nights)
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