Thursday, March 8, 2012

Rickshaw Run

rickshaw back

I know I'm guilty of it.  You stumble across a quiet place where you're the only customer.  Against your better judgment you order and are rewarded with an amazing meal.  Each time you go back, you're almost always the only customer and the food's always just as good.  It seems like it's your little secret, but in the end, secrets are best shared.

I want the streets of Footscray bustling after 6pm on a Saturday.  I want these hardworking businessmen and women to succeed widely and make all of Melbourne fall in love with their wonderful wares.  Footscray will never "run out" - there will always be enough for everyone.


The Footscray Traders' Association is a grass roots organisation run by Footscray's traders to advocate as a united voice.  They have created a fantastic, unique event for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival that is now in its second year.  The Rickshaw Run, currently sold out despite running for lunches and dinners across a two-week period, is a whistlestop tour of Footscray's Vietnamese restaurants.  I was invited along by Grant Miles of the FTA to check it out.


First stop, D&K Live Seafood for freshly shucked oysters to the beat of Japanese drummers Wadaiko Rindo.


Salty, plump and luscious!


The rickshaws are gorgeous and are actually very relaxing.  The "runners" (all 80 of them) are all volunteers, responding to local ads.  I think this says a lot about Footscray's community.


Next stop, Little Saigon, an indoor market that bursts with colour, smells and life.  I love the descending bidding wars between the stallholders that happen at closing time - as they drop their mango prices down, dollar by dollar, the crowd swings back and forth en masse from each fruit stand.  The group before us has never been here before and left with plastic bags groaning with fruity bargains.


Samples (as well as the many out for the public).  This longan or dragon's eye was new to me - it was sweet like a lychee and quite delicious.


Next stop, the ever-friendly Sen for DIY rice paper rolls, complete with expert tutorial.  I finally worked out how to get the prawns on the outside of mine like in the shops!  The secret - well, you'll have to go next year ;-)

rice paper roll

We kept saying, "Oh, we really shouldn't have another".  Let's just say this sort of restraint didn't last for long.  The dipping sauce here is gorgeous, thick, peanutty and creamy.  It's made with coconut milk and a special vegan ingredient, cooked green mung beans!


Rolling, rolling...  In a rickshaw, you feel separate from "the street", kind of like you're in a pleasant bubble, yet still part of it in a way you don't if you're in a car.

Hao Phong

Hao Phong are a Footscray stalwart and are reliably busy every night of the week.  Here we sat down to lovely, steaming bowls of pho.


I got lucky with warm, soothing chicken.  I couldn't taste the pho spices in the broth all that much but it was a great bowl of soup with fresh pho noodles and really tender chicken meat.  LOVED the house-made crispy garlic and onion sprinkle!


If you've ever wondered what's in the sugar dispenser on the table in many restaurants, it's Vietnamese "sate" sauce (pronounced "satay"), vaguely similar to XO with dried chilli and dried seafood in oil.  This isn't for adding to your pho (float the chillis in the broth if you want more heat) but for dipping your meat - I loved this combo (new to me) of sate sauce and hoisin (in a squeeze bottle on each table).


By now we were worrying for George, our trusty rickshaw man, as our combined weight was increasing with each stop, yet he remained irrepressibly bubbly and excited for our next stop.


A Footscray success story - Sapa Hills started on Hopkins Street only a year or two ago but already have a new branch in Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn.  Tam, the owner, is divine.  Loving their smart new check uniforms.


Sapa Hills are probably best known for this dish, bun cha Ha Noi.  It's a northern Vietnamese BBQ dish where belly pork and pork patties are marinated and cooked over charcoal.  Smoky and juicy, they're mixed with the thinner sesasoned fish sauce dressing and tossed with noodles and herbs to make your own salad.


Dong Que, one of my favourite restaurants - their coleslaws are fantastic, as well as their crepes, rice flour cake with egg, Vietnamese tacos...  I could go on.  Dong Que made it into The Age Cheap Eats this year, woohoo!


They're best known for their traditional Vietnamese spring rolls.  The tiny, cigarette-shaped ones we know so well are really a more recent invention.  The wheat wrappers most places use are much easier to handle and make the rolls much more robust.  The true method is to use rice paper, just like the cold rice paper rolls at Sen above, with a meaty pork, noodle and mushroom filling.  The rice paper gives a really delicate yet deliciously crackly skin.  Roll in lettuce with a few mint springs - gorgeous!


Despite the extra kilos on board by now, George kept us rolling up to the last stop, Pho Tam, for our choice of sweet drink.


Pho Tam are one of the only places I know that do the full "Vietnamese coffee ceremony", if you like.  Each cup is brewed individually with the Vietnamese version of trendy filter coffee - a tiny silver contraption that drips the hot coffee slowly onto a raft of sweetened condensed milk.


Help from the maestro - when the coffee's all dripped out, whip it up and pour it over for sweet, icy deliciousness.

This is a great way for newcomers to Footscray to experience it.  I love the rickshaw aspect of it - so much more fun than just walking around the circuit.  Each dish that Footscray Traders have picked is a house specialty - not surprisingly, as they know what's good at their own place!  It's also really cool to walk right in to each restaurant to a dedicated, perfectly-set table and receive your dishes within three minutes of entering.

This year is totally booked out (although you can go on the waiting list) and next year there will be new restaurants and new dishes.  If you've never experienced Footscray, of if you're trying to "sell" it to suspicious friends or rellies, I think this is an awesome place to start.  Even if you're a die-hard Footscray foodie, I still think you will discover something new - I didn't know how good Sen's rice paper rolls were, and I would definitely order the pho ga again at Hao Phong.

Most of all, I love that this is a unique Footscray creation made and owned by the community.

What would be your ultimate Footscray food crawl?


  1. Glad you enjoyed the Rickshaw ride, I did some pulling on the Sunday lunchtime session,
    We love the Duck rice paper rolls at Sen!

    1. Andrew, that is so cool! Good on you. I will have to sign Mr Baklover up next year.

      Ooh, duck rolls sound great. Miss Chu in the city are getting some buzz about their rice paper rolls but I will have to try Sen's again soon.

  2. Amazing!!! I'm surprised you haven't had Longan before!! I prefer it to Lychee myself. The shininess of Sapa Hills has always been a bit of a deterrent .. but the Bun Cha Ha Noi looks like my kinda dish ... so we might have to put prejudices aside and pay them a visit soon. I'm sure you were a fountain of information on the ride ... perhaps you should be MC-ing this event in some form or another.

    1. There are good things at Sapa Hills, the bun cha Ha Noi one of them. I've always wanted to try their other grilled meats, eg broken rice plate as I reckon they would be as charcoal-ly good. Mr Baklover loves the soft shell crab there (last one I had was all right, they have been better). Bo la lot good too. I know they are shiny but give them a try! They're a great "special occasion" place. Just wish they would play music.

      I was with my very smart and Vietnamese food savvy friend so she in fact taught me many things I didn't know!

  3. This looks like such a fun idea. I'll have to remember to look out for it next year!

    1. It really is a jolly good time. I wonder where they will choose next year...hard to beat this line up.

  4. What a lovely post! My mum and I were in Footscray on Saturday, we ate pho at Pho Chu The. On the way back to the car we saw the "rickshaw" - we were wondering what they were for!! I actually didn't know the English word for them until reading your post. Looks like you had an awesome food adventure, I am so jealous!! Next year i am in for sure!!!! Keep on blogging, I enjoy reading your blog very much, I live in the west and love to hear reviews on local eateries. xx

    1. Thanks so much Neeno... It was indeed a fantastic food voyage! Most people were mystified in a good way when they saw us trundling past. One guy said, "You must be very important people!" I'm not sure if he knew we were on an event or just felt like taking a rickshaw down the street :-)

  5. Mmm I'm happy to admit that I've been to most of the destinations on this food tour! That makes me a real Footscray expert! Actually I think this is the suburb I dine at most. :)

    1. Yes! Got me thinking about other iconic dishes. Tra Vinh for hu tieu mi kho, Tan Thanh Loi for broken rice...

  6. Thank you - a lovely write-up! Glad to hear the toilers are volunteers. Had previously thought the rickshaw thing had an element of post-colonial cringe-worthiness about it!

    1. Yes I know what you mean, that had crossed my mind too! They are all really into it, though. One rickshaw man was a forensic scientist who lives above Little Saigon and just thought it would be a giggle. Did you see Andrew from Foodscrazy did a shift?!

  7. Ok so this is now firmly on my wish list for next years festival - when I saw it advertised I thought it meant heaps of different rickshaws raced off against each other - I didn't realise it was a food crawl - what a brilliant idea. Big thumbs up to all the volunteer rickshaw pullers as well (is that the technical term?!)

  8. Wonderful post Lauren, we saw the riskshaws last Sunday and were wondering what was going on.
    A few of my Footscray favourites are the Banh Cuon and Banh Cong at Dinh Son Quan. I have to agree that Little Saigon is a must see for anyone new to Footscray.
    The Banh Bot Chien at Dong Que is just amazing, maybe a Soursop smoothie to wash it down.
    Other favourites are the Com Ga Ga Don (Fried Chicken) from Tan Truc Giangand I desperately want to try the Bun Thit Nem Nuong from Tan Thanh Loi but they are always sold out! It must be so good!
    Oh and to finish the Nathan Thai sweet selection can't be missed! What is so awesome about Footscray is that there are still so many other great meals yet to be discovered...

    1. Hi Andy, thanks for all those delicious ideas. I am obsessed with banh bot chien at Dong Que, oh my god, delicious. I must go back for Banh Cuon from Dinh Son soon! I agree, they are yummy and rarely seen. Must try those other suggestions and cruise the Nathan Thai selection. YUMMY!!!!!!

  9. I'll have to bookmark this page for all the wonderful suggestions! I'm an Eastie so I rarely go to Footscray, but when I do, I want my trip to be worth it and eat all the good food on offer!

    This Rickshaw Run is such a fabulous idea! Will keep it in mind for next year.


I love getting your comments! They're what make blogging worthwhile. Unfortunately, the amount of spam I get is obscene and it is so tiresome to have to moderate every comment, so I have had to turn on annoying word verification. I'm sorry for the inconvenience, but please know how much I love you having your say!

Related Posts with Thumbnails
Related Posts with Thumbnails