I love Footscray, but I am not a native West-Suburbian. I lived in Richmond from when I was 13 or so, for 12 years before moving West. They were great times. I worked at Dimmeys in the "Goodness Gracious Cafe", selling $2 pie and cuppachino deals, making up iced coffees from the big tin of International Roast Caterer's Blend under the counter. Later, gigs at the Corner, smoking in the band room, ending up at the Vine at 5am. I taught English to a Vietnamese woman in the North Richmond flats. Her whole extended family lived in the one tiny apartment it seemed, some on camp beds in the lounge room. They always wanted to feed me. I remember guiltily riding the lift to her floor, thinking about what treats they would make for me, when I should have been going over my lesson plan.
Nothing ties me to Richmond any more apart from my family, who still live there, and Thanh Thanh. I have tramped the length of Victoria St and eaten in almost every restaurant and Thanh Thanh consistently came out on top. (Xiao Ting Box was also a fave, but I have decided I am too old to eat at brazenly grotty places. At least attempt to hide the dirt, people!) But even Thanh Thanh's tenuous tie has now been snipped, with the discovery of Pho Tam.
I read about Pho Tam here, here and here. What a find. Firstly, I love that the menu has a few pictures, and the menu items have descriptions rather than just their title. When I first started eating Vietnamese food, I had no clue what the English "codes" for different delicious dishes were. How would you know that "Rare Beef with Lemon" means beef carpaccio with punchy herbs and crispy vegies? Or that the seemingly innocuous "Spicy Beef Noodle Soup" (Bun Bo Hue) may get you a spicy, oily soup brimming with offal? Lots of trial & error means I now know my "rice vermicelli" (Bun) from my "fine rice vermicelli" (Banh Hoi). Pho Tam's menu could cut out a lot of the heartache (and heartburn) of experimental ordering, and make you more adventurous too!
For comparison I had my fave, Bun Chao Tom, or "Sugar cane prawns with rice vermicelli". It is essentially kebabs of prawn mince on stripped sugarcane, which lend a complex sweetness to the prawn meat. This is served on top of a warm salad of rice vermicelli and crispy vegies, sprinkled with crispy bits of pork fat, and served with sweet fish sauce dressing. Pho Tam's version was sensational - more rustic than Thanh Thanh's, the prawn meat still on the sugarcane, with a real grilled flavour.
I had an iced coffee and was delighted at how it was served. See picture, but essentially the silver contraption above the glass is a mini coffee brewing machine. When it has finished dripping, you stir it up and add to the icy glass. Divine! The waitress was so friendly and willing to explain it all to me. I can't wait to go back and be more adventurous. Next visit to Pho Tam: unravelling the difference between the enigmatic "Egg noodle - soup or dried". They are certainly the right people to help me.
Pho Tam, Cnr Ryan & Leeds Sts, Footscray