When visitors arrive from interstate and overseas I hustle them off to the unlikely tourist attraction of Little Saigon market and the surrounding shops to pull together the ingredients for a meal. Luckily most seem to like it if only because it does not correspond with their idea of Australia.
And that is what I love most - Little Saigon might feel like Vietnam (at least to me, who has never been there), but it is still so much a part of the Australia I know and love. Who wants to live in a place where there is only Coles to shop at, only toasted sandwiches and milky tea to sup on, and only Slim Dusty to listen to? Certainly not I - unless the milky tea were bubble tea, perhaps!
Here's Ms Baklover's guide to the Little Saigon Market. Please write in with anything I've missed!
First, stop by the sugarcane juice shop to get you in the subtropical mood. They are just on Byron St, near the Leeds St corner.
Long poles of sugarcane are passed through a simple yet powerful "wringer" to extract all the sweet juice. You will see a garbage bin full of the twisted, juice-less remains.
Sugarcane juice, $3.00
They will give you "one they made earlier" so that it's really nice and cold. Aaah! The sweetness is really complex, unlike a regular cordial or soft drink. A small mandarin bobs amidst the ice cubes, complementing the faint lemon flavour of the sugarcane.
Next, some sustenance. Step into the market - there's a entrance just down from the sugarcane stall. On your right is this shop, Sun Wong Kee. Pick up a bag of delicious, salty, tender fried squid legs and proceed to munch, à la hot chips - but so much better!
Bag of fried squid, $4.00
The best thing about Little Saigon is the plates of fruit you are encouraged to try before you buy. This is also a sneaky pit stop if you have hungry, whining children (as is Baker's Delight - they always have some sort of new product on the counter to ply the kids with, I mean, sample).
I always do my main shop at Footscray Market, as I know and am fiercely loyal to Masters' Fruit and Buttacavoli's Fish. I do like perusing the fruit at Little Saigon, though, as they often have fabulous, exotic finds, like mangosteens, rambutans, dragonfruit, and cheap mangoes.
If you haven't tried mangosteens, you simply must. Inside are lobes of soft white flesh, which taste like a cross between banana, lemon, and mango.
When you've picked up all your goodies, stop off at To's 2 Bread & Cake and pick up something sweet to have at home.
I love these little pillowy sweets, called Banh Bao Chi. They are made from glutinous rice and rolled in coconut, and these particular ones are filled with a sweet/salty peanut mixture.
Banh Bao Chi, $3.00
Now, put your feet up, pop your banh bao chi on a saucer, and have that cup of milky tea - bubble or not.
Little Saigon Market (map)
Byron St, Footscray (between Nicholson & Leeds)
Hours: Sun - Thurs 9.00am - 6.00pm, Fri 9.00am - 9.00pm, Saturday 9.00am - 7.00pm