There is good food everywhere if you know how to look. Everyone already knows where to look. In Melbourne, where food rates as much of local obsession as the queer Australian code of football or being better than Sydney at everything (apart from being queer), the chances of finding a “hidden gem” amongst the restaurants is unlikely. The real challenge is finding the best dishes within the known areas. The known unknowns, in modern anti-guerrilla warfare parlance.
Victoria Street in Richmond is one of the Melbournes’s pre-eminent Vietnamese hubs. It’s packed full of food that puts much of Ho Chi Minh City’s best to shame and it isn’t near as hard to find. Your best bets for most of the restaurants are to eat the foods that are named on the front windows of the store. They’re displaying them so prominently for a reason.
Amongst the crowded Vina strip there are a handful of dedicated pho restaurants serving nothing but beef and chicken soups, most notably a second outlet of the Footscray-based Hung Vuong and Pho Dzung.
I was most tempted by Pho Dzung because a few evenings earlier when I dropped by with a vegetarian friend only to find that the single dish that they could conceive that contained no meat was a fried egg on plain rice. The notion that vegetarianism is weird and foreign suggests that this is just like the real Vietnam.
Pho Dzung’s pho bo tai (A$6, small bowl, above) is a carnivore’s delight. The silky smooth broth breathes pure meat. The tai, thin slices of raw beef that warm through in the broth, couldn’t be much juicier. A few doors down at the grocer, there are a huge assortment of deep-fried snacks that I tend to associate with Cambodia rather than its most hated enemy.
The num anksom cheik (A$2), which in Phnom Penh can be conveniently found in front of the Chinese Embassy on Mao Tse Toung Blvd, comes chopped, smothered in tinned coconut milk and with a complimentary plastic spork. Not quite fresh from the barbecue but still a good (and previously unknown) find.