Thursday, March 11, 2010

Nhu Lan 2

I blame cloudcontrol for putting the idea into my head.  He daydreams...
I still really miss the fact I could run downstairs from my place and grab a banh mi (Vietnamese pork roll) or some xoi cuc Ha Noi (Hanoi-style sticky rice with chrysanthemum) or even a quick bowl of pho.
So naturally, I had to buy a pork roll for breakfast on the way to work.  And then I had to buy one for lunch too.  Research purposes, people!

It may have been 8.30am but Nhu Lan was pumping.  You have to be pushy or you will get swept aside as more customers flood in, demanding their favourites, while the ladies behind the counter deftly slice steaming rolls, spread pâté, and rifle through their lunchboxes of takings to find you your change.


Your choices are divided between cold and hot offerings, from mixed ham or bi (shredded pork skin), or any one of BBQ chicken, pork, chicken & onion, tofu, as well as interesting "kebabs" and "xiu mai" (like the eponymous yum cha dumpling, without the skin, in a vibrant red sauce).

My favourite roll is BBQ chicken.  The sticky red thigh is plucked from a pile which seems a foot high, tossed on the weathered, stained chopping board and with a few satisfying thuck thucks of the cleaver, sliced for stuffing into your crispy roll.  This is topped with pickled carrot and radish, cucumber, coriander, chilli and special sauce, before being tucked in a crisp paper bag and sealed with an efficient twist.

BBQ Chicken Roll, $3.80

The chicken is warm and juicy, melding with the soft yet crunchy roll, accented by fantastic, sweet, tangy pickles.  YUM!  All you suckers getting "chicken" rolls at Subway - walk the extra block and you'll never look back!

Bi is usually described as "shredded pork skin".  I'd never had it before and was curious.  I don't see how it can be the skin, though, as it is meltingly soft, and surely the skin would be horribly tough and chewy unless it were made into crackling?  (Then again, that is probably just me, trying to find an excuse to make crackling.)  It seems to me to be the under-skin layer of fat, shredded and mixed with a little lean meat.  If you can enlighten me, please do so.


Unlike the chicken roll, the bi version was seasoned with chopped peanuts, fried onions or shallots, nuoc mam cham or seasoned fish sauce, and marinated, chopped spring onions.  The bi was very tender and sweet, but too fatty for my taste to eat for a whole sandwich.  It would be great as a kind of relish on the side of an otherwise light dish, such as a simple bowl of rice.  I can't fault Nhu Lan for the execution though, which seemed to me to be perfect - as always.

Nhu Lan (map)
116 Hopkins St, Footscray
Hours: 5.00am - 6.00pm, 7 days

Nhu Lan on Urbanspoon


  1. Yes, ever since Nhu Lan opened in Victoria St, I've been going there, abandoning my old favourite Huong Huong, largely because they have the banh mi bi. Nhu Lan is something of an institution in Sai Gon, a bakery/deli with two big outlets. Interestingly, they're one of the few places where banh mi is quite large and chock-ful of fillings, like we're used to here in Australia. Most places/carts tend to be quite sparing with the fillings, and it's more of a snack. It's quite common for men to have two for lunch.

    Banh mi bi is my new favourite variety, but I am also partial to a banh mi xiu mai though I insist they still put the pate in with it (some places will omit the pate when doing the xiu mai.

    You also often get bi as a part of your com tam suon bi trung or com tam dac biet (broken rice) so your hunches about its use are completely founded!

  2. "Bi is usually described as "shredded pork skin". I'd never had it before and was curious."

    Is this an example of being Bi curious?

    Sorry bad joke.....great bakery!

  3. Penny - it's great, isn't it? I always try new places but keep going back to Nhu Lan.

    cloudcontrol - thanks for the info. I've never had a banh mi xiu mai, that might be my next breakfast. Tee hee!

    Anon - yep left myself wide open for that one!

  4. hehe- what timing. Friends just came back from Nhu Lan and dropped me off a mixed ham roll- how nice is that!

  5. Adrian - that's what I call "meant to BI!"

  6. Have you try Ba Le? (Straight ahead after the JV Mobile' traffic light, pass the intersection. It's between the Pharmacy and Asian Grocery.) They used to be The Place for pork roll before Nhu Lan came along. I prefer going there over Nhu Lan. They are cheaper and never as busy, very important during the lunch rush. For $3.00 you get 2 flavors (mine is Xiu Mai and Red Pork). All their hot/cooked food are made in house.

  7. Hi Hung, I have tried Ba Le and liked it very much (if you search the blog, you should find the review). I've been wanting to try Banh Mi Xiu Mai for a while now - think Ba Le's version might be next on the list! Thanks for the rec - keep 'em coming!

  8. I'm used to like the Ba Le Bakery but I'm now Nhu Lan convert! The bread seems better there. When you bring these baguettes home, a good way to reheat them is to put them straight onto the sandwich press.

  9. Hi Mark, that's a good idea. Although Ba Le has nice meat, Nhu Lan has a better overall product. I also think they have the edge in that they bake their own bread onsite.

  10. Hi Lauren,

    Thanks for doing this write-up! I'm hankering for some Banh Mi.. and since I'm about 45min's-ish away.. I have to make a point of going up for lunch one day. I'll of course have to bring some bread rolls home too.

  11. Maria, get the rolls and try making Grandma's chicken curry to serve with it for dinner - search the site for the recipe - OMG to die for!

  12. Bi is made out of pork skin which has been boiled and sliced into extremely thin slices, creating an extremely soft skin which melts in the mouth. Sometimes the skin is boiled for a long time until it goes very soft to create the delicate texture. It is then tossed with thin strips of pork meat and covered in raw garlic and finely ground toasted rice, sugar and salt and pepper. It can be eaten in bread rolls, with broken rice, in noodles or by itself with fresh herbs

    1. Thank you for that info, anon, and sorry it has taken me so long to write back! That is really interesting. I have always wondered how bi was made as normally skin is rubbery unless it's made into crackling.


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