I must have walked past Dong Ba too many times to count on my way to or from somewhere else, and there was the problem. Either the more you pass by somewhere, the more it becomes an itch you just have to scratch, or conversely, the less you notice it until it merely becomes part of the landscape.
I went with something I had not tried before - the banh canh tom thit or prawn and pork "soup noodle". The unique feature about this soup is the use of a particular noodle which very much resembles Japanese udon. It differs in that udon is made from wheat whereas banh canh is made from rice or tapioca flour. The noodles are thick, white and cylindrical, tender yet pleasantly toothsome. I absolutely loved them - in fact I think I prefer them to flat, white, pho-style noodles. They appear on menus in translation as "drop noodles" or "rice starch noodles". They have more bite, more "spring" - altogether more character. My stock was delicious, very fresh and clear.
We had a big plate of mixed lettuce, herbs, bean sprouts and a little cabbage and carrots to toss into the soup. Billy explained that in Vietnam there would be more local vegetables such as water spinach, split and curled as described by Wandering Chopsticks. I am getting more used to lettuce in a hot soup. At first I found it odd - warm, wilted and unappealing - but after reading somewhere that it is supposed to sweeten the broth somewhat, I have to concur it does.
This is a lovely little restaurant - most things are under $10, it is bright and cheerful, and the small menu is easily navigated from the familiar to the obscure. I can't believe I bypassed it for so long. Sometimes we spend our whole life searching for what has been right under our nose the whole time.
133 Hopkins St, Footscray (map)
Phone: 9689 0608
Entry: Small step to enter.
Layout: Could accommodate.