The Cabramatta 2014 year of the horse lunar new year festival was held on the weekend. I was honoured to have been invited by 702 ABC’s Simon Marnie to partake in a live radio broadcast! Co-hosted by Thang, they covered various lunar new year traditions as celebrated by the Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese and other Southeast Asians.
I chimed in about my lunar new year memories and experiences – how as an Australian-born Chinese, it felt special to be allowed by my strict parents to skip a day of school every Chinese New Year day throughout primary school; how I had just spent all weekend making banh chung with my mother; and how elaborate my family’s Chinese new year feasts always were. (FYI, this year was no exception, we welcomed the new year with a sumptuous feast at Rhodes Phoenix)
I was also challenged to take a 702 ABC listener on a food tour of Cabramatta! While our normal I Ate My Way Through Cabramatta food tours take over 3 hours, this express food crawl was a real challenge. Not just because of the time constraint, but also because I was guiding Melina, a Cabramatta local! Of Italian descent, Melina has lived in Cabramatta all her life and works nearby at Canley Heights RSL. In the words of Barney Stinson, challenge accepted!
To be at Cabramatta by 8:30am, I had woken up earlier than I would have on a work day, so I was in desperate need of coffee. I soon found out that Melina had never tried Vietnamese coffee which made the first stop a no brainer. Cafe Nho is a bustling coffee shop which spills out onto Belvedere Arcade, just off John Street. I love the Saigon vibe here, if we had more time, we would’ve enjoyed our Vietnamese iced coffees (cà phê đá) in their outdoor seating area.
Melina notes that the coffee is strong like an Italian espresso – with a beautiful caramel edge, I add.
Much like the streets of Saigon, Cafe Nho also offers an exotic selection of fruit smoothies. Combinations include avocado & mungbean, coconut & avocado or my favourite, a durian shake!
7 Belvedere Arcade, Cabramatta, NSW
Phone: (02) 9755 9299
Next, we wandered into the back streets so I could point out the abundance of gold coloured fruits (which resemble gold nuggets) and other auspicious foods that are popular during lunar new year.
As we strolled along each arcade, we shared nostalgic memories of Cabramatta’s changes over the years. When we reached KK Bakery (also known as Tien Minh), the comforting aroma of their pandan and coconut waffles wafted through the air. Thick, chewy and crispy, the waffles are filled with shredded coconut and the delicious fragrance of pandan leaves. In my opinion, these are the best waffles in Cabramatta. Admiring it’s Hulk-green colour and heart-shape, Melina said she’d seen these many times during her grocery shopping trips around Cabramatta but had never tried them. Woohoo, another win!
Then from the BKK Shopping Centre, one of the only places I’d ever seen Teochew ang toh kueh outside of my family home, I gleefully picked up the last box and excitedly proceeded to share my little cultural insight (details in the link above).
BKK International Fast Food Centre
5 – 7 Freedom Plaza, Cabramatta, NSW
From one food court, into another, we then went to Cabramatta’s No 1 Shopping Centre – I promise you that’s the real name. Tan Hung Vuong is one of the larger stalls here, their menu features many lesser-known dishes.
When Melina asked if the banh xeo picture was an egg omelette, I immediately knew I had to order it.
For just $10, we were served a glass of iced tea, a plate of lettuce with fresh mint and herbs, a bowl of nuoc cham fish dipping sauce and the hero banh xeo (Vietnamese pancake/crepe). The crispy crepe consists of rice flour, coconut milk and tumeric; folded together, it sandwiches a savoury combination of mung beans, onion, shrimp and pork.
I demonstrated the technique of eating this like a san choy bow, placing a slice of the banh xeo on top of a bed of lettuce, pickled carrot, common mint, Vietnamese mint and perilla leaves. We rolled it up and dipped it into the fish dipping sauce. We both agreed this was the perfect Summertime meal, it was so light and refreshing.
We returned to the 702 ABC stand to share our successful food crawl adventure and soon after, Simon Marnie took on Huong Xua’s pho challenge!
The pho challenge is normally $17, but free if you finish the entire serving, within 11 minutes. This monstrous bowl of pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup) is made of 500g rice noodles, 500g meat and a proportional amount of pho broth! Fear not, according to their Facebook page, there have been several successful attempts! Sadly, Simon was not one of them, although his attempt was a great effort!
Because there’s always room for a little bit more, after the 702 ABC radio gig, I went to Thanh Da, a restaurant on the slightly quieter end of Cabramatta.
Thanh Da’s house specialty is bun mang vit (Vietnamese duck and bamboo shoot vermicelli noodle soup) and goi vit (duck salad) – this is apparent as soon as you enter the small restaurant as there’s a dedicated chopping area with several ducks hung across the counter. I love ordering bun mang vit because it feels like I’m getting two dishes for the price of one. The vermicelli noodle soup normally features duck giblets as well as bamboo shoots. The broth is clear and delicate, enabling the sharpness of the accompanying duck salad to lift the flavours. The duck salad is simple but a classic – it’s just shredded cabbage, duck, lots of Vietnamese mint, and always, a zingy ginger dressing.
There are so many incredible noodle soups available in Cabramatta, this is just one of many!
And of course, what’s a trip to Cabramatta without a sugarcane drink for the drive home? This natural thirst quencher is pressed sugarcane juice with a tiny bit of orange. It’s only $3 for a large cup if you know where to buy it from 😉
Want more? Join our Cabramatta food crawl tour event, I Ate My Way Through Cabramatta. Tours run once monthly and costs $90 per person, all inclusive of tastings and lunch.