Vietnamese

Saigon Fresh, Gungahlin

I absolutely love pork rolls (Saigon rolls, banh mi tit or whatever you want to call them). They’re definitely on my list of top 10 foods of all time. These little unassuming bread rolls have got everything going for them. They’re super tasty, somewhat healthy(ish), really filling and extremely affordable as well! The combination of fresh vegetables with delicious Vietnamese hams along with creamy, fatty and delicious pate and Vietnamese mayonnaise, all inside a Vietnamese baguette. Who knew just a few ingredients could bring so much joy. Yes, I did realise how often I said Vietnamese just then.

I must say, my love for pork rolls has definitely grown since coming to Canberra. I guess I have never really fully appreciated how good I had it in Sydney. In Sydney, you don’t really have to go too far to get a good and reasonably priced pork roll. Wondering around Cabramatta, Bankstown or the CBD, you’ll find bread stores that sell pork rolls at every turn, particularly in Cabramatta. If you ask ten different people what their favourite pork roll store is, you’ll probably get at least eight different answers, and I can see why. Like yeah, everyone loves the Marrickville Pork Roll store but really, that store down the street that sells it for $3.50 with no lines is probably just as decent. Plus, its pretty easy to know if a pork roll will be tasty. If you’re looking through the window, and the Vietnamese mayonnaise and pate looks correct, then chances are you’ll be in for a good time. After that, it all comes down to how generous they are because that totally makes or breaks your pork roll as well.

Here in Canberra, we don’t quite have the same luxuries, as I’ve sadly come to realise. Good pork rolls are actually rare and finding a decently priced one is almost impossible. I completely understand that it can’t be as cheap as it is in Sydney. As from my understanding no one in Canberra makes the various Vietnamese hams that go into pork rolls, hence everything in imported from Sydney. Plus, there definitely isn’t a great deal of competition in Canberra either. Having said that, $8 for a pork roll is ridiculous and it frustrates me even more when my Canberran mates harp on about how amazing, affordable and what a bargain a $8 pork roll is for lunch. IT IS NOT!

I know that some people think that we talk about price too much, but, well I don’t know about you, but eating out is a massive hit to my wallet, so sadly, value is fairly important to me. With that in mind, I’m used to $3.50 pork rolls!

After all that complaining, I think I’ve found the solution. I think I’ve located a pork roll store in Canberra that does it right and for a reasonable price and I’m super excited to write about it.

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Here it is, the Pork roll ($6) from Saigon Fresh in Gungahlin. There are four things I look at when I compare pork rolls, I do this all mentally and within seconds by the way, I’m sure others probably do the same too! So don’t think I’m crazy or anything. I look at the mayonnaise or butter, pate, the vegetables and the meats. Price also factors in. I know a lot of people also talk about the bread but I have never really cared for the bread too much. If it’s not bad, it’s good. By that, I mean not horribly chewy or stale, but I’ve never seen any place get it that terribly wrong.

Here at Saigon Fresh, all four elements were pretty spot on or close enough for me to consider it a decent if not pretty damn fine pork roll. So the four elements that I really care about are as follows:

1. Vietnamese pate

2. Vietnamese butter/mayo

3. Pickled carrots, radish and other condiments

4. Meats

You might think it’s weird that I have two whole points dedicated to sauces but to me, the mayo and pate are the two most important elements in a pork roll! These make or break pork rolls and if you’re not having both, you’re not experiencing a true pork roll! Of the two, the pate is the most important. It should be really strong and rich, with a slightly smoky underbelly. While the butter needs to be light and creamy, with a soft, smooth texture like mayonnaise but with a rich and slightly sweet flavour to it. The veggies and meats aren’t too important for me, as long as they’re the right type and generous, its all good and I’ve yet to see anyone use the wrong meat yet. There are three meats, the pink one, the white one, and the white one with the red edge (my detailed technical knowledge must be very impressive to you all). I need a whole layer of each meat, that’s all I ask, no half pieces business please!

So now that you know what I’m looking for in a pork roll, it’s probably time to talk about the rolls here at Saigon Fresh. Well, how did it stack up? Pretty darn well. The pork roll at Saigon Fresh was well balanced, everything you’d expect to find in Sydney. A good amount of meat and other bits, carrots were crunchy and pickled nicely. Bread was fresh and crispy as well which I really enjoyed.

The pate was really good and tasted spot on, unfortunately they weren’t overly generous with it so the flavours were not as strong as I would have liked, but I guess some people would call it ‘subtle’. There was a good amount of soy sauce, enough for flavour but it didn’t soak the bread or leak through either. No shallots here at Saigon Fresh, instead they used purple onions, which was a bit weird, but fit the roll quite well. The coriander was shredded up instead of being long stalks placed on top, allowing it to mix really well throughout the roll and you got bits of flavour everywhere instead of a huge chunk on one end and none elsewhere. The cucumber was cut differently, here they used oval slices instead of long lengthways strips. You might think its weird of me to point that out but surprisingly it gave the pork roll a pretty different texture. It made the pork roll slightly less crunchy due to more of the ‘centre’ of the cucumber being present.

Nevertheless, for $6 is not a bad price for Canberra, if not a bargain! Especially as the pork roll is actually pretty darn tasty and every element was pretty spot on. Regardless of my nitpicking, this is my place to go for a pork roll in Canberra, hands down, every time.

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I know it was just one dish, but I mean, you go to a pork roll joint, what else would you get? This shouldn’t surprise anyone. This was really nice and if I didn’t live so far from Gunghalin, I’d honestly come and grab this roll way more often, it’s that good. This has got to be up there in both price and taste for pork rolls in Canberra, so if you’re at all someone who is interested in these little Vietnamese delights, then you can’t go past Saigon Fresh in Gunghalin!

Saigon Fresh

Gunghalin Village, Hibberson Street, Gunghalin

Website: saigonfresh.blogspot.com.au/

Opening hours: 

Monday to Thursday

9:00am to 5:00pm

Friday

9:00am to 7:00pm

Saturday to Sunday

9:00am to 4:00pm

Saigon Fresh Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Can Tho, Belconnen

Okay, so this post is looong overdue. This place is a bit of a regular haunt for us yet its taken me over a year to finally get around to writing about Can Tho’s tasty goodies. Back when I was living in Belconnen, I probably visited Can Tho at least once a week, since moving to Braddon, I don’t get to visit as often but it’s still my favourite Vietnamese restaurant in Canberra.

Can Tho sits a little west of the Westfield and just a store or two from Goodberry’s. The store isn’t fancy or anything, and is very much like your typical Vietnamese restaurant in Cabramatta or Bankstown. There are rows of chairs and tables, some basic Vietnamese paintings and a TV at the back. Its not fancy but hey, like any good Vietnamese restaurant, you go to Can Tho for the food, not the decor. While the decor is basic, the atmosphere is anything but that. You may not want to take a first date here, but its perfect for a group of friends or a family with young kids who just want to relax, eat and chat loudly with no one giving you dirties.

The menu at Can Tho is pretty expansive, although Can Tho is a predominantly Vietnamese restaurant, they also serve some staple Chinese and Malaysian dishes. I have no idea how good these other dishes are, I only really go to Can Tho for their Vietnamese dishes. Ehh why experiment when there are a couple of dishes that you’ll always crave as soon as you walk in?  Plus, if I wanted Malaysian, I would probably go across the road to Malaysian Chapter which, I might add, is also brilliant. Can Tho is great and all but I’m sure a Malaysian family probably does Malaysian food better.

Alrightie, thats probably enough talk about Malaysian food, lets talk about the amazing Vietnamese goodness at Can Tho.

First up, a couple of entrees. The Spicy chicken wings ($6). These are hands down the best chicken wings I’ve ever had from a restaurant EVER! (I don’t cook, so I can’t say I’ve ever made any that are better) This isn’t one of those “these are pretty good for Canberra…” type comments, these are the best I’ve had from all the Vietnamese restaurants that I’ve been to in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne or anywhere! Trust me, it’s a lot of restaurants!

So what make these the best chicken wings ever? Its a combination of two simple things. 1. the most amazing and crispy batter and 2. the most amazing and flavoursome toppings. Just two simple things that make these chicken wings heavenly. The coating on these wings are simply amazing, they are super light, airy, and have this amazing crunch to them. The batter covers the chicken wings perfectly and ensures that every bite is just amazingly crunchy. The crispy batter is than covered with this super flavoursome topping which includes plenty of slightly fried garlic, shallots and even a little bit of chilli. I’m normally not a fan of chilli but on these chicken wings, they actually add just the right amount of kick to make you continuously come back for more and more.

Next up, the Sesame prawn toast ($5). Another fantastic classic from Can Tho. These aren’t as good as the chicken wings or the pho but they’re still a stand out compared to others from around Canberra. Like with everything else at Can Tho, what make these fantastic, is the generous flavour in each bite. Each bite is filled with a super generous and thick spread of minced up prawn. You can taste and feel the prawn in each bite, you can tell that they haven’t just bulked it up with flour or stratch, which is always great. A lot of places, when they do prawn toast, it comes out as a really thin slice of toast, with a thin spread of prawn flavour. I hate those places and endeavour not to order this dish there. It might not be obvious from this picture but each of these are roughly 1.5cm thick, and I’d say at least .5cm of it is pure prawn. Really good!

Finally, each piece of prawn toast is fried to this perfect golden consistency. This brings all the texture and crunch that the prawn toast needs, it also gives you that overly fried flavour – not great if you care about your heart or figure but for the rest of us who live to treat our tongues, this stuff is golden. Of course, theres a dipping sauce on the side which is sweet with quite a lot of tanginess to it. This sauce perfectly contrasts the rich and oily flavours of the prawn toast. Together, they make the perfect combination of lovely prawn flavour, crispy crunch and oil goodness.

On to the mains at Can Tho, and firstly we have the Broken rice combination ($13.50). This is a Vietnamese restaurant staple and something I absolutely adore. So the elements of this dish are a fried egg, Vietnamese pork chop, some egg meatloaf, shredded pork skin and some pickled vegetables. The egg meatloaf is kind of an odd thing to describe, it has a texture kind of like a soft terrine, and has some stringy, meaty bits wedged in there. Tastes a lot like pork, but for some reason, to me at least, it has some hints of prawn to it as well, even though I’m pretty sure there’s no prawn involved here. Next up is the egg, it’s just a fried egg and if you’ve never had one before, then maybe try doing that before tackling restaurants. There are just some things you need to experience in the comfort of your own home.

Next is the shredded pork skin. Despite the name, it’s not crunchy at all, so get those mental images of pork belly out of the way. It’s actually really soft, and kind of noodle like in texture, like a really pork flavoured noodle. You might notice when you eat this that it’s really grainy and has lots of little spicks and specks everywhere. This is because when they make this dish, they get raw rice, cook it up, then grind it down into a fine powder and mix it through the shredded pork skin. It has the great quality of adding some slight crunch to it, giving it an roasted rice flavour and keeping things interesting.

The main event here of this dish is undoubtedly the pork chop, and it’s something I love very much. I don’t really know how it’s made, but I just Googled it and it seems to be a 24 hour marinade in brown sugar, fish sauce, shallots and vinegar. Look, I love this dish, but ain’t no one got time for that! That’s why I just go to Can Tho and eat their pork chops! The chop here is just exceptionally tasty. I’m sorry I’m not doing a better job describing it, but it just is what it is. A cool little thing they do is they slice the pork chop along the edge, this means the pork doesn’t curl up as it cooks. You appreciate those kinds of touches.

There’s not much thinking to do with this dish, you just dive in and work your way through everything, though, I recommend placing the egg over the rice and cracking it open. Having yolk drenched rice is just something I really love.

Even though I absolutely love broken rice, there isn’t a dish out there that’s going to supplant pho as the best dish at a Vietnamese restaurant! So finally, leaving the best til last, a bowl of delicious Pho tai ($12) or Rare beef noodle soup.

Although, I’ve been to Can Tho dozens of times, these four dishes are my staples. I’ll order them over and over again and never get bored, plus the chicken wings, prawn bread and pho at Can Tho are some of the best in the whole of Canberra. Why would I bother exploring and missing out on the best that Can Tho has to offer? One of these days, I will go to Can Tho and try out their Bun Bo Hue, not everyone can master the art of pho and bun bo hue as well, most places are just amazing at one and a bit average at the other.

The pho at Can Tho is super flavoursome, with plenty of meaty flavours permeating throughout it. The broth is slightly on the sweeter side but a lot of people prefer their pho like that. The slight sweetness adds just the right amount of lift to the pho broth but doesn’t take anything away from strong meat flavours. To top off the fantastic and super flavoursome broth, Can Tho are not shy with their meats, giving plenty of thinly sliced raw beef throughout the pho that is actually served rare! A lot of places will give you meat and you can tell the meat isn’t completely raw when it went into the bowl. Rookie mistake.

Finally, to make it the perfect trifecta, Can Tho uses fresh rice noodles and gives you plenty of it as well. Nothing annoys me more than a place that serves dried rice noodles. To be fair, it doesn’t happen often but when it happens you can just tell, the noodle just doesn’t have that lovely texture and bite, instead it’s just too soft and excessively thin. Like all good Asian food, it’s about big delicious portions and here at Can Tho, they get it perfect. Absolutely perfect.

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Finally, some sweet treats to end the night. Our first treat for the night, the Flan with ice cream ($6). This dessert brings back fantastic memories from my childhood. It took me a while to realise that its actually a Vietnamese dish, not a Western dessert that my mum just picked up and started cooking for us (yes, I was a little naive – of course she wasn’t going to cook us Western food!). Many older Vietnamese people dislike the French, since well, they kind of colonised the country and then treated it like any other supreme super power treats its colonies, that is, pretty poorly. I, however do not dislike (or have any feelings to be honest) towards the French, actually I feel like I have to thank them. Without them, Vietnamese food would just be like Chinese food. Instead, thanks to a little bit of French influence, we now have some of the tastiest and best dishes around the world, like banh mi tit (pate, Vietnamese bread rolls), Vietnamese iced coffee (with condensed milk, of course), some other goodies and of course, this fantastic little treat – the flan.

The flan here at Can Tho, is just like my mum makes it. Full of creaminess, with a lovely eggy aftertaste and then coated in a rich and sweet caramelised sugar syrup. Here at Can Tho, the syrup isn’t as strong or caramelised as I’m use to but thats probably better, nothing worse than slightly burnt syrup that can just make everything bitter. The flan also has a fantastic and smooth consistency all the way through. Finally, if you’re thinking, that sounds a little too rich and decadent, then you’d be right. That’s why there’s some creamy vanilla ice cream to contrast the flavour of the flan and sugar syrup. The perfect combination of flavours and textures.

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Finally, the Deep fried ice cream ($6). I can never say no to a deep fried ice cream. If it’s on a menu, I’m getting it. I just can’t help myself! Not only is it super tasty, it also defies science (sort of)!  The deep fried ice cream here at Can Tho is solid, nothing amazing to blow your mind but you’ve all probably had enough of my gushing uncontrollably about Can Tho. Though I can’t say I care too much, as long as they have a crispy outer shell with a good frozen ball of ice cream inside, I’m a happy camper. The deep fried cream at Can Tho is just that, a crispy outer shell made of breadcrumbs. The main issue for me was that the skin was probably a bit too thick, so it got a bit starchy. The inside was solid, cold and creamy, just the way it should be. I also appreciated that they let me add two toppings, strawberry and caramel instead of just one. It doesn’t cost them anything but I’ve had places say no to the request, so its worth a mention!

I must say, there was a time when a deep fried ice cream did blow my mind, it was at Phnom Penh in Belconnen. The deep fried ice cream came out with a flambe. My deep fried ice cream was on fire! If you’re interested in deep fried ice cream, then definitely check that place out!

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Finally, our drink from Can Tho, the Coconut water ($4). Nothing too special about this coconut water, just what you would expect from any good Vietanmese restaurant and at a decent price too. Lovely, nutty and sweet, how coconut water should be! Not like those hipster coconut waters that taste like nothing and cost you like $8 for a cup! Thats just wrong, once you’ve had this – you’ll never go back to that hipster crap. Unless you love your body I guess, thats a different story, just ignore me if you love real coconut water, I’m just uncultured.

Well, I final did it. I wrote up Can Tho. As you can see, this place is good and I love it. If you claim to love Vietnamese food, you’ve got to try out Can Tho. There are tons of places in Canberra that do Vietnamese food. There are a lot of places that do it well, but there are very little places that get it right every single time.

Can Tho is one of those places.

Can Tho

38 Weedon Close, Belconnen

 

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Saigon Foodies, Kingston

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The other week whilst out and about in Kingston I decided to drop by Saigon Foodies to try out their pho. I have had my eye on Saigon Foodies for a while but never got around to trying it until now. To be honest, I think the stores been there for ages but in the past six months or so, it was re-branded into something a lot more hip, cool and in. The food, décor and what not still looks the same. It seems like they’ve just changed their name and boarded the Vietnamese hipster trend. This isn’t a bad thing at all, and if it improves business then good on them! As much as it annoys me that stores are now selling pork rolls (or banh mi tit) for $8 when we’ve been paying $3-5 for them since I was growing up, at least I know its my fellow country men and woman who are profiteering from this hipster movement. Don’t get me started on foods that are inappropriately priced, I could go on for days!

During our trip to Saigon Foodies, we were originally hoping to get a Saigon roll (or pork roll, banh mi tit or whatever you want to call it). However, we were informed that they had sold out for the day. This was a bit shocking for me as I’ve always thought that the pork rolls at Saigon Foodies (and in Canberra in general ) were quite overpriced. Every time I see a pork roll for over $5, I cringe a little. I mean, on the weekend I grabbed a pork roll for $2.80 in Cabramatta and it was fantastic! I know, it sucks to hear that person go on and on about how some cities are better than Canberra, and I honestly try to refrain as much as possible, but I feel like pork rolls are something that we need to make a stand on! I understand that everything has to be imported from Sydney, so I’ll normally justify a price of about $5 or so in Canberra but it really shouldn’t be more than that! Anyways, it was 3PM on a weekday and they were all out. I guess the point of that story was, if you’re keen on getting a pork roll at Saigon Foodies, get in early. Also something about a revolution. A bread revolution.

Anyway, we were pretty hungry and plan A just failed, since we had a little bit of time, we settled for a pho instead.

Here is the Pho tai ($12) or rare beef noodle soup at Saigon Foodies. While I think the banh mi tit is pretty overpriced at Saigon Foodies, the pho isn’t too expensive. It has pretty standard Canberra pho prices. Okay, I know you may be thinking, ‘Why on earth are they going on so much about the price? What does it matter? You pay for what you get, the more you pay, the better the dish!’ While true for a lot of things, this rule seems to bend quite a bit for Asian restaurants. If you know where to look, there are some amazing Asian cheap eats all around Canberra that offer delicious and authentic Asian dishes, fantastic sizes for a fraction of the cost of some other places. Though, I won’t name names even though logically, you’d assume that is the entire point of a food blog. Oh well.

Anyways, more about this pho! The pho here at Saigon Foodies was pretty tasty. Strange but tasty. It isn’t the best pho I’ve had in Canberra but it’s a decent feed if you’re craving a pho, live in the inner south and don’t want to travel anywhere. I did notice that it had more of a chicken base instead of a beef base and wasn’t as meaty, deep or dark as pho usually is. Despite that fact, it had all the right pho scents and aromas. That was a bit strange. Normally, I’m able to judge a pho from its aromas. Chances are, if you walk into a Vietnamese restaurant it’s pretty unmistakable if that place serves good pho as you can smell the various spices that go into pho like star anise, ginger, cardamom, coriander, fennel, and cloves. Here the smells and aromas were all there in the pho, but the flavour was a little different to any pho I’ve had before. It was really quite subtle, light and had a more chicken broth like flavour to it.

As it wasn’t so dark and meaty, the broth was on the sweeter side but by no means too sweet or anything like that. It was probably the sweetest pho I’ve had in Canberra. Thought, I should mention that I know some people prefer their pho very savoury while others prefer it sweeter, so each to their own. Here is one for the sweet pho lovers out there. The pho had a generous amount of thinly sliced rare beef on it, as well as some herbs sprinkled on top. I didn’t really like that they added the chilli for you, especially as I can’t eat chilli at all. Once I took the picture, I pretty much rushed to get the chilli and all its seeds out of my pho as quickly as possible so the spiciness would not seep throughout my pho broth. On top of the herbs in the bowl, they also offered a side of fresh Vietnamese herbs and limes as well. I really appreciated that they did this, I know some other smaller places will just add the herbs into the pho for you, so they don’t have to waste all the herbs that you don’t eat. I don’t really like this as I tend not to put any of the herbs into my soup, so this saves me from having to pick it all out.

Here is the side of herbs, its a pretty decent amount and all the herbs were really nice and fresh. In the end of the day, it wasn’t a bad pho. Its probably not on the top of my Canberra pho list but if I was in Kingston or anywhere else in the inner south and craving one, I would probably drop by again. In hindsight, now that I’m thinking about it, I wonder if they gave me the wrong pho or got my order wrong. Maybe I got a chicken pho instead. From my understanding, you can make a pretty similar pho from chicken bones but it will taste slightly different, which is exactly what we experienced! Interesting, well I do plan to visit in the near future to get my hands on one of Saigon Foodies’ pork roll, I guess I’ll have to try their pho again to see if my theory is correct. Who knows, maybe this was just a fantastic pho ga!

Saigon Foodies 

42 Giles Street, Kingston

Saigon Foodies on Urbanspoon

Bistro Nguyen’s, Civic

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Recently, I visited the newly opened Bistro Nguyen’s which replaced the recently closed Wasabi in Civic. I was originally pretty skeptical of this new Vietnamese restaurant which screams hipster and I’ve never trusted hipster Vietnamese food. It’s just one of those cuisines that doesn’t translate well to hipsterness. Vietnamese food is all about delicious flavoursome dishes, good portion sizes and homely comfort. Its not something that photographs particularly well, or should be plated in a hipster way. However, after seeing the menu which included many other traditional Vietnamese dishes, not just pho, I felt a lot more comfortable that I would have an enjoyable meal and decided to try it out.

Bistro Nguyen’s menu is quite extensive and it includes all the things you should find on a good Vietnamese menu. I know, weird comment to make but most Canberra restaurants only do a couple of things like pho, pork chop broken rice etc, but they tend to miss other key Vietnamese dishes like bon bo hue or hu tieu. Yes, I know I’m a terrible Vietnamese food nerd but it has to be said! (Plus, I can’t help it, I was raised on this stuff!)

Bistro Nguyen’s menu also includes a variety of different Saigon rolls. Its really interesting to see Saigon rolls at an actual restaurant instead of at a Vietnamese bakery. Saigon rolls are more of a street food, quick snack or in a sorts, a Vietnamese take away. I guess it does make some sense for Canberra, where pork roll shops and Vietnamese bakeries are extremely rare plus I think Bistro Nguyen’s sells the Saigon rolls at lunch time over at the bain-marie section of their store.

Before I talk about the food, we noticed something interesting about Bistro Nguyen’s store name. When I was typing this up, we were arguing about the store’s name, since it was a circle and all. We couldn’t agree on whether the name was Bistro Nguyen’s or Nguyen’s Bistro. The second one of course makes a lot more sense. After checking their official Facebook page, we can confirm that it is indeed Bistro Nguyen’s, which makes no sense because of the apostrophe but after a while, it hit me! I realised, Vietnamese sentences are constructed backwards. So yeah, that was interesting.

Anyway, food time.

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First up, some entrees, the Stuffed chicken wings ($7.50). This was from Bistro Nguyen’s blackboard special. We actually didn’t notice this at first and were about to get some pork (nem noung) fresh rice paper rolls but as the waiter came, my eyes looked up and saw this on the blackboard special. I’m always someone who will give a bit of precedence for blackboard specials because I like to imagine that is what the chef is secretly willing me to eat. Also, chicken wings will win every time for me, over just about anything.

For $7.50, you only get one chicken drumstick but it’s a pretty big one! I think they pretty much just remove the bone piece and then fill it with more meaty goodness and then some more, because I don’t remember bone being that big! This stuffed chicken wing at Bistro Nguyen’s was filled with pork mince with vermicelli, a mushroom known an nam meo in Vietnamese or apparently, Jew’s ear in English and some other things I couldn’t quite make out. It was all mashed up into this tight thing, and just jammed in the chicken, I really liked it, and it wasn’t super soft and tender or anything, and kind of had a weird spring roll kind of flavour to it.

The stuffed chicken wing was tasty. The chicken was nice and crispy but it was more of light crumble so there wasn’t a lot of dough. As the shell wasn’t overly crispy, the more basic flavour of the chicken meat definitely came through strong. Luckily, the pork mince was really flavoursome and quite firm. The combination of the blander chicken meat with the strong pork mince worked well.

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I of course could not go past the Saigon pork roll ($7.50). Of late, I’ve been trying to sample all the Saigon rolls (pork rolls, banh mi thit etc) in Canberra to see which one I like the best. Of course, when I saw it available on Bistro Nguyen’s menu, I had to give it a go. Outside of this roll, Bistro Nguyen also offers a beef, chicken and a vegetarian version. I went for the classic. Although, the pork rolls at Bistro Nguyen’s aren’t quite traditional they are definitely not bad, and while I harp on about traditional and authenticity all the time, I did find that I enjoyed this.

The pork roll here lacks shallots or onions and includes crackling pork belly. I’m normally a massive geek when it comes to pork rolls and I’m super pedantic about getting it right and authentic.  However, when I sampled Bistro Nguyen’s version with the pork belly, it did not set alarm bells ringing, the soul of the banh mi was here and strong, and all the changes just worked within the confines of what this roll means.

I appreciated the addition of pork belly seeing as I’m paying Canberra’s premium pork roll prices, so that was a massive plus. However, the Vietnamese pate and mayonnaise or butter, which I regard as the most important element of a pork roll wasn’t especially strong here. They weren’t overly generous with it and both were on the milder side compared to what you’ll find at a really good pork roll place. However, here is where the pork belly came in, the meaty and heavily Asian spiced flavours of the pork worked well to enhance the flavours of the pate. I guess where the pate was lacking, the pork belly stepped in. So I guess it works in a way.

The rest of the pork roll was pretty spot on. There was a generous amount of pickled carrots and fresh cucumbers which were nice and crunchy. The pork roll included all the three pork roll meats, the white ham, the pink ham and the white meat with the pink fatty skin layer. However, you only get one circle piece of white meat with pink skin which is a bit scummy, though lots of places have started doing that now. There was also coriander and chilli! Oh the chilli, so the menu doesn’t state that there is chilli but the pork roll indeed comes with chilli and its the hot, small Vietnamese type, so they burn! Word of warning for everyone else, let them know you can’t eat chilli and don’t want it, if of course, you’re like me.

In the end of the day, its not a traditional pork roll but its still better than anything else you can get in or around Civic. (I still need to try the iPho’s one, and probably the Roll’d one.)

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Onwards, to the good stuff, the soupy stuff. Pho dac biet ($13.50) (Special Pho). Bistro Nguyen’s has your usual pho choices, the basic pho tai, pho bo vien, pho ga and what not but the most interesting offering was the pho with wagyu beef sirloin (5+), brisket, tendon and beef meatballs for $16.50. I must say, I’ve never seen a Vietnamese restaurant offer wagyu but then again I’ve never been to a hipster Vietnamese restaurant before. We opted for the standard special pho; the grade 5 wagyu sounds fantastic and all but at the end of the day, the beef still gets completely cooked by the pho broth. So, I didn’t really see the point, but if anyone ever tries it, let me know how it is because I’m curious, just not $3 curious.

The actual pho was a bit of a let down but there is a caveat to that comment, so don’t stop reading here! When you walk into the store, you could smell the scent of the various herbs and spices in Bistro Nguyen’s different soupy dishes. Normally, if a pho smells deep, hearty and really delicious and meaty, chances are it probably will be pretty tasty. However, here at Bistro Nguyen’s when I took a sip of the pho, it didn’t taste quite right. It took me a while to figure it out but pretty much the pho at Bistro Nguyen’s was heavily watered down. It had all the right flavours, the spices, the meatiness and what not but none of them were really strong.

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Having had that said, it could have just been that we ate at Bistro Nguyen’s on a bad day, which is unfortunately, something that can easily happen at a pho place. Growing up, I remember whenever my mum cooked pho, it was always best on the third day. The longer the bones and spices sat in the broth, the deeper and meatier it got. From my understanding, most restaurants having a running broth where they’ll just keep topping it up with water, new spices and bones. Hence, if you eat at a pho place on one of those days, its never really as pleasant, but if you get it on a good day, then it’s super flavourful. There are of course more popular and established places that have a couple of pots going to ensure they always have a good broth but Bistro Nguyen’s is only about a week or so old, so I don’t think thats quite expected yet. A disappointing pho, but one that I’m definitely willing to try again.

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Onwards to the Hu tieu ($13.50). While the pho was a little watered down, the hu tieu was spot on and full of flavour. I don’t see hu tieu on many Vietnamese restaurant’s menu, its not quite as popular as pho but recently I’ve been having a hankering for it, I even asked my mum to make it for me next time I’m in Sydney. After having the hu tieu at Bistro Nguyen’s that craving is no more. When this came out, it smelt absolutely delicious and as I took a sip of the soup, I knew I had made the right choice.

Before I jump into how it tasted, I figured I might describe what hu tieu is since its a lot more unknown. Apparently, hu tieu is actually a Cambodian dish. I never knew this until I read the descriptor on Bistro Nguyen’s menu. I always just assumed it was Vietnamese since my mum made it pretty regularly and it sounds Vietnamese too. Well, regardless of its origin, hu tieu is delicious. The broth is made from pork and shrimp, with the flavour of the shrimp coming through much stronger, while the pork works as a base and after taste. The noodles in a hu tieu is also different to anything else in Vietnamese cooking. Its this clear, thicker noodle that’s rectangular in shape. Texture and taste wise, it reminds me of Korean potato noodle, just more al dente. Its then topped with a combination of pork meat, prawns and an oily garlic sauce.

The hu tieu at Bistro Nguyen’s was perfect. The noodles were lovely and soft while the broth was super strong in flavour. They didn’t have the garlic oil but no biggie. The hu tieu was topped with various Vietnamese hams, pork meat, a couple of fat and juicy prawns as well as some chicken. Bistro Nguyen’s also offers their hu tieu either dry or wet, which is great because my preference is always dry. (Though, I asked for mine dry and it arrived wet, but it tasted so good that I didn’t really mind).

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Finally, a serving of the Soft shell crab ($13.50). We actually didn’t get this, we bumped into a friend who was having a quick dinner before heading home, they joined us and ordered this soft shell crab. As I didn’t try it, I won’t comment on how it tasted. This was one of Bistro Nguyen’s blackboard specials. I thought it was rather interesting, I don’t think I’ve ever seen my parents cook soft shell crab, I always just assumed that it was a Japanese thing. Like, Vietnamese cuisine does have crab, but its not done like this. Its normally older crab with the tough shell that you have to break with those clamps.

Though the way this smelt and look, it reminded me a lot of home. It looks like quite a lot of soft shell crab and our friend seemed to enjoy it. The crab comes with a side of salad, which you can’t see from the picture but if you want some rice, you’ll have to order that separately. I think it was about $3.50 for a serving or person.

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I’m really happy to see another Vietnamese restaurant open up in Civic. I know this review sounds far from perfect but I think most of the issues can be put down to Bistro Nguyen’s being only about a week or so old. As time goes on things will definitely get better and once Bistro Nguyen’s has ironed out all the wrinkles I can see this place offering some really good and authentic Vietnamese eats. Or not, but you know, we’ll probably try it again in a month or so just to see how things are going.

Bistro Nguyen’s definitely screams hipster, from the store name, to the decor, to the attempts of making Vietnamese food presentable. However, when you look at the menu and try the food, it is actually quite spot on and authentic trashy Vietnamese (I say that in the most positive way possible). The menu has all the things you would expect from a good Vietnamese restaurant, which seems to be quite rare in Canberra. Like, yeah you can find a decent pho here but if you’re looking for something a little more left field, I find Canberra doesn’t quite cater for that. But now, there’s Bistro Nguyen’s to fill in that void for me, which is really cool because I’ve kind of got my favourite pho places locked down. It’d get a bit complicated if I had to add more to it.

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Pho @ Dickson, Dickson

Last week we headed out to Dickson to try out a newly opened Vietnamese joint that specialises in pho. I absolutely love pho, I grew up on it. My mum’s not a great cook but over the years of being a mum she has really mastered the art of pho making. Her day to day cooking is fine but her pho is on a whole other level. So pretty much whenever we were craving pho, the following Friday there would be a pot simmering away on the stove, you could smell the pho aromas and spices as you walked through the front door. Those really were the days. Now sadly I don’t have that privilege anymore. I still get it when I visit Sydney but having pho once a month just doesn’t quite satisfy my cravings enough! Hence, in Canberra I’m always on the look out for the perfect pho. One that is done right with a deep, dark, meaty and delicious broth plus noodles that are done properly and served soft, of course there are other factors that people rate a good pho on, like amount of meat, portion size, amount of fresh Vietnamese herbs but for me it’s the soup and noodle, portion and price plays a factor but if you get the first two right, I’m happy to pay. In Sydney, I probably wouldn’t be willing to pay a lot for a pho but that’s because there are plenty of Vietnamese restaurants that can make a good pho. In Canberra, its been a little hit and miss.  However, it looks like that’s all about to change.

Pho @ Dickson has been open for about a month now. It replaced Bao’s Kitchen, which I really quite liked and am sad to see go but at least something has taken its place quite quickly. There was one slight thing to note about Pho @ Dickson, on their menu they mentioned that a couple of dishes are only available for lunch, including many classical Vietnamese dishes like bun bo hue and pho. However, despite this warning, the pho is available at dinner, though the rest are not. It’s kind of weird, for lunch Pho @ Dickson serves food like a real Vietnamese restaurant that you would find in Cabramatta or Bankstown but at night it seems more Western and homely, kind of like the food you find at Griffith Vietnamese restaurant. I guess Pho @ Dickson has catered their menu for a Canberrian audience. Its a bit of a shame seeing as there aren’t many people or places that can do a good bun bo hue, and it would have been nice to be able to try out the one at Pho @ Dickson but I’m never really going to be able to go there for lunch.

Alrightie, onto the food.

Before jumping straight into the much anticipated pho, we decided to grab a couple of entrees. First up, the Prawn toast ($6). The prawn toast at Pho @ Dickson was pretty good, there were two slices of toast with some prawn mince spread out over them. The bread was fried to bring just the right amount of crispiness and crunch to the toast but they didn’t overdo it and make the prawn toast too oily and sickening. The prawn mince had a good strong flavour to it, and allowed the flavour to really come through quite well on the bread even though Pho @ Dickson didn’t give you a massive layer of prawn mince. Normally, I prefer a super thick layer of prawn mince because well, that’s what I’m buying isn’t it? I prefer to get a lot of prawn with my toast, but it’s honestly pretty rare from the prawn toasts I’ve had around town. The prawn toast at Pho @ Dickson wasn’t like that but because it had enough flavour to it, it was still quite enjoyable. So far, Can Tho is the only place that has a really thick toast that I prefer, but at the end of the day the prawn toast at Pho @ Dickson is an enjoyable one and much closer to home which means, chances are, if I’m craving a prawn toast late one evening, I’ll probably be making a quick trip to Pho @ Dickson.

For our next entree, we grabbed a serving of Chicken wings ($6). These were really nicely fried with a crunchy skin and nice tender meat inside. I felt that these textures worked really well, and made it a really interesting dish to eat. The flavours were a bit basic, if I had to guess probably just salt and pepper, but this was alleviated by the addition of a lovely garlicy chilli soy sauce. This was was a highlight for me, really great flavours and I went crazy dipping the chicken into the sauce so that it’d cover all the meat. The sauce added some nice sweetness and just made the chicken that much more enjoyable. Not sure what else I can say about chicken wings, these were good, but probably similar to what you’d find in other Vietnamese places.

For our last entree, a serving of the Vegetarian fresh rice paper rolls ($6). These came with tofu, you can also get the standard steamed pork and fresh prawns fresh rice paper rolls as well. I didn’t notice any chicken or other weird combinations but I’m more than happy with that, traditional fresh rice paper rolls are made with steamed pork and fresh prawns, there are some other version of them, like Vietnamese sausage (nem nuong) or shredded pork with pork skin that you get as a part of a pork chop broken rice combination but chicken is unheard of. So for anyone who loves Vietnamese rice paper rolls and has only ever had them at hipster food joints, you’ve got to take it back to basics and try the traditional flavours because they’re fantastic and you’re missing out!

Anyways, I went for the vegetarian one. The fresh rice paper rolls at Pho @ Dickson were really nice. Vegetarian ones are normally pretty different and vary from place to place and since you don’t have any meat or seafood, you’re left with tofu and veggies which need to make up all the flavour. Back at home, my parents would sometimes season it up by stewing it or sataying it. Here at Pho @ Dickson they used fresh silken tofu with the fried skin on the outside and I was really happy with this decision. I love this style of tofu, I had it a lot at home, its really creamy and quite refreshing but they don’t bring a lot of flavour. So here, for flavour Pho @ Dickson used was pickled carrots and radish, much like what you find in pork rolls. I’ve never had it like this before but its worked like an absolutely gem. The tofu was super creamy and then you had a lot of tanginess to it as well as great crunch and texture. There were also a few bits of fresh Vietnamese herbs here and there through out rolls. Definitely one of the better vegetarian rice paper rolls I’ve ever had.

Finally, here we have it, the much anticipated Rare beef pho ($12.50)! I decided to go with the standard rare beef version, Pho @ Dickson also has a special version, which is about $2 more. If you decide to go with the special version you’ll get the whole deal, tripe, beef balls, plenty of rare beef, tendon and etc. which makes it quite the meal. Not saying that the standard version wasn’t enough because there was plenty of food. For $12.50 you get a good amount of soup, noodle and meat. Its probably one of the larger ones I’ve seen around Canberra and that’s not even the best part about this bowl of pho.

The pho broth at Pho @ Dickson was amazing. It was deep, dark and really meaty. There wasn’t a lot of sweetness to it but I’ve never had an issue with that, I find if I want to add more sweetness to a pho, I can add some hoison sauce but if I hit a pho that’s a little sweet for me, I find it quite hard to fix. The second thing that really sold for pho at Pho @ Dickson was the noodles. I know that sounds pretty weird, the noodles are not overly complicated but so many places get it so wrong. There’s nothing worse then getting the wrong type of noodles, it completely throws off the whole pho. It doesn’t feel right and the amazing pho flavours can’t be absorbed properly. Another issue I find with some pho places is that the noodles come out slightly hard. It’s an easy fix so I don’t get why restuarants get it wrong so often. Pretty much, you can’t just have room temperate pho noodles or worse yet, fridge temperature pho noodles and pour pipping hot broth over it, this isn’t enough, the noodles will come out quite al dente, which to me, is not an enjoyable pho. You’re meant to warm up the noodles before hand, about 15 to 20 seconds in the microwave is all you need, then piping hot broth over the top of that, and that’ll get you an amazing bowl. Here at Pho @ Dickson, they’ve got the broth 100% on the mark and they’re noodles are perfectly soft as well. So big win from me.

For people who love all that other stuff, the pho here is a great serving for the price, the pho comes with a fresh plate of Vietnamese herbs, I don’t eat them but I know them and it looked like Pho @ Dickson had most of the key herbs if not everything.

The entrees at Pho @ Dickson were fine, they weren’t better than any other Vietnamese joint in Canberra but the pho here is a great addition to Canberra food scene. The crew at Pho @ Dickson had all the elements spot on. I absolutely love this place, I am a little sad to see Bao’s Kitchen close down but its nice to see such a great business open up, plus a business that seems very homey and family run. Great stuff, can’t wait to visit this place over and over again. Its on my list of weeknight dinners. No need to head down to Weston anymore for My’s (my previous favourite), the north side now has a deep, dark and meaty pho of it’s own! Don’t really want to get into the whole North vs South debate, but if you’re a pho lover, check Pho @ Dickson out, its worth the trip!

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My’s Vietnamese Restaurant, Weston Creek

I’ve always loved food pictures and I originally started this blog with the intention of sharing my food adventures through mainly images. However, over time I began typing more and more and now I’m at the point where I’m an doing full fledged post but still using Tumblr’s photo set option, that is a group of images at the top and my text below. I realise that this isn’t the best way to present and talk about the food that I’m trying out and it is also really difficult to tell what the different dishes are. Hence, I am transitioning! I’m going to start using Tumblr’s text option. Hopefully this goes well!

Onwards to the food! I’ve been to My’s a couple of times since coming to Canberra, this is my go to place for pho, it is simply the most flavoursome broth I’ve ever had (outside of my mum’s of course).and I absolutely love it. I actually discovered My’s during a bit of a Canberra pho safari. I was missing my mum’s pho and decided to go out and get some in Canberra, it was 9PM on a weekday and Can Tho offered to give me take away, it wasn’t great but I can’t blame them, it was late and it was take away. After this disappointing experience, I started searching for one that would satisfy my craving, during this little experiment I had pho from: iPho, Jimmy’s Saigon, Can Tho, Tu Do, Simply Pho, Roll’d, Au Lac and My’s. Most were pretty decent, some were pretty average but My’s was simply amazing.

This post is a little overdue. As I mentioned before, I’ve been here a couple of times before. However, I’ve never done a blog post on My’s and this place definitely deserves a post.

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So we decided to start with a couple of entrees, first up we got the deep fried wontons (5 for $6). These were nice, the meat was perfectly seasoned, not overly salty and not bland. Best of all it wasn’t overly oily. I’ve never really had fried wontons at a restaurant, I’ve only really had them at home but we had a friend who liked them, so we ordered some. After trying these, I definitely think I’ll start ordering them more often when I’m at Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants.

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Our second entree for the night was the garlic chicken wings (4 for $6), this was really nice and crunchy. However, the garlic flavour wasn’t particularly strong and could probably do with a bit more but the chilli soy sauce that it came with was really nice. The sauce was flavoursome and had like a honeyish sweetness to it. Without this sauce, the chicken wings would have been a little bit bland, like standard fried chicken wings, so I was really thankful for that sauce!

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On to the pho/rare beef noodle soup ($14.90), the best part of the night.

I’ve had pho in both Sydney and Canberra, and what makes My’s stand out from other pho in any of those places is its amazing broth. The broth at My’s has a strong savoury flavour to it that you can smell as soon as it hits the table. The broth is super dark, deep and full of meaty flavour as the meats have melted away into the broth. if you’ve ever had the chance to have or make pho at home, My’s broth is like what you get if you’ve had home made pho on its third or fourth day, the flavours just magnify from all the meats imparting their flavour. Some people prefer a sweeter broth, and for those people there’s an easy fix, just add a little bit (or a lot of) hoisin sauce.  Outside of the fantastic flavour, the serving size is generous, with plenty of rice noodles, meat and a lot of broth to go around. The herbs are also really fresh and there is plenty of it to help balance things out.

Every time I come to My’s the food is fantastic, there have been times when the broth was milder but even then it is so much better than most other joints. I have had a couple of other entrees here including the prawn and zucchini fritters (2 for $8.00), which were fantastic (sorry I don’t have a photo). My’s does serve a lot of other foods including Vietnamese home style food (like Griffith Vietnamese) and restaurant style food. I’ve never had anything outside of the pho but judging by the number of people they get every night, I would definitely feel safe ordering their other dishes. If you’re looking for a delicious savoury pho in Canberra, definitely check out My’s.

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