Yes, I’m going a bit nuts on the Vina diacritics.
The equation that can’t be avoided when you travel for food is the one where you compare Third World prices to First World and try to account for the differences, offseting rent, ingredient quality and labour. It is a fun but fruitless diversion. The above bánh xèo from Quan Đình Sơn, next to Saigon Supermarket in Footscray is $10 for a crepe the size of your forearm. A full cubit of bánh xèo.
$10 would buy 16 plates of bánh xèo from my local market in Cambodia but it wouldn’t buy one this good. Once again, my weekend phở trip gets derailed.
Đình Sơn’s is packed with shelled prawns and slices of fatty pork. The crepe skirts the border of crispy and chewy. It’s rich and coconut-y. The side plate of cos and butter lettuce, used for rolling up chunks of the crepe and dipping in the sweet dipping sauce nước chấm, is generous and refilled as I plough through it. There isn’t much else in the way of distraction in the restaurant: the obligatory TV is on the blink; there’s barely enough mirrored tiles to form an entrancing hall of mirrors; their shrine is perfunctory. Shoppers pass on the way into Saigon Supermarket and pick up meals to go from the bain marie.
The menu boasts about a hundred Chinese and Vietnamese dishes but the key here is to order from the corkboard just below the plastic menu board which contains a few kho dishes, dry fried noodles and the bánh xèo, written up in permanent marker.
Location: Shop 1, 63 Nicholson Street (cnr Byron St), Footscray VIC 3011
Hội An in Vietnam openly pimps out its regional specialties with flagrant disregard to public taste, be it inferior tailoring, Vina-Franco-Sino-Japanese architecture or local food. The tourist-focussed restaurants that don’t offer bland facsimiles of hoanh thanh (wantons, generally fried), banh beo/banh vac (a steamed rice-flour wonton) and cao lau as an incongruous and brazen set menu are thin on the ground; the 60,000 dong carte du jour de rigueur.
Good cao lau is a pork battleground with slices of char siu-style roast pork, lard-heavy croutons and noodles, and a thin porcine stock fending off the intrusion of bitter fishwort and cress. Like Hoi An’s rich architectural heritage, it is hard to pick which influence came from where and whence. Unlike the buildings, it’s hard to find an exemplar; an edible equivalent of Tan Ky House.
The above cao lau was flaunted from a specialist stall on the eastern edge of Hoi An’s central market for the hours from early breakfast through late brunch alongside banh khoai, a miniature crispy omelette of egg, rice flour and turmeric filled with prawn and bean shoots. The banh khoai are rolled in a square of rice paper with a sliver of starfruit and some more fishwort, served with a peanut and sesame sauce. Their soggier cousin banh xeo is a different, but equally tasty beast.
The cao lau couldn’t be more local: every ingredient is on sale within twenty metres of the vendor, noodles for bun alongside the fatty yellow cao lau noodles. The dish’s official history dictates that the water used in the dish must be drawn from a single well in town.
Slices of crouton in their pre-deep-fried state
Price: bowl of cao lau, 10,000VND; banh khoai, 5,000VND per roll.
See Also: Noodlepie’s Cau Lau recipe