So the next day, camera in hand, I went to visit a shiny new spot with the idea of pumping out a post in the next 24 hours. But here's the problem. Over the past few weeks I have now been to this new place no less than four times, and every time, like the worst kind of addict I say, "Just one more time... Just once more before I blog it..." because you see, this little slice of Sunshine is seriously something special.
Xuan Banh Cuon specialise in banh cuon. These are rice noodle crepes, delicate and almost translucent, lightly filled and rolled up. Banh cuon aren't that easy to find in Melbourne, and when you do, the noodle sheets are often shop-bought. XBC make them in house the painstakingly traditional way, by cooking the thin, milk-white batter on fine mesh above a pot of simmering water.
If you order #1 on the menu, each gossamer-thin wrap is sprinkled with a little pork mince, tiny prawns and diced mushroom, rolled up, stacked and sprinkled with savoury (fairy) floss and crisp fried shallots. They're served with seasoned fish sauce (multi-dimensional, unlike other venues' offerings which can sometimes be too unilaterally sweet) and a pile of the crunchiest, freshest greens and herbs.
I AM IN LOVE.
To eat, you can ask for a separate bowl to make your own little salad of noodle rolls and veg, or just muddle your way through. They are served with pork loaf that is a bit like Vietnamese frankfurter (but loads better than that sounds). These banh cuon are some of the best I have ever had.
Xuan Banh Cuon serve a small menu of northern Vietnamese classics. This is bun ca with red rice noodles, a traditional northern soup with home-made fish cakes spiked with dill. It's soothing, homely and delicious.
The red rice noodles have an earthy, brown rice-y flavour that feels far more nourishing than the typical white rice pho-style noodles.
Just some lovely sweet coconut juice, filled with big, soft petals of coconut meat. If you spy the whiteboard in the background, you can see a few more of Xuan Banh Cuon's northern Vietnamese specialties, like the awesomely named bun thang, a noodle soup topped with pork loaf and omelette, and mien mang ga, chicken and bamboo soup, served with (I believe) gluten-free sweet potato noodles. So many new tastes to try!
Lovely bun thit nuong, chargrilled pork belly that floats to your table on a cloud of intoxicating sizzling charcoal scent. Use the supplied bowl to make your own DIY salad with vermicelli, herbs, bean sprouts and all that lovely chargrilled meat. I do love Sapa Hills' similar bun cha Ha Noi, with pork meatballs among the twirls of pork belly, but this is still a very nice dish.
This is Jen of Xuan Banh Cuon; her mum's in charge of the kitchen. The menu only has about 10 specific dishes on it, and Jen explains that her family are proud of their unique, regional dishes and keen to do "a few things well".
She was telling me how delighted she was to read a recent positive comment on Urbanspoon. "My mum just loves it when people like her food," she said.
Jen - get ready for a LOT more of that.