Phuong Vietnamese Pork Rolls, Sydney

Buying food from the supermarket in Australia is expensive. So much so that I've hardly cooked since being here - buying a loaf of bread and tin of baked beans costs nearly as much as eating out, I know which I'd rather.

In Chinatown you can expect to pay between $9 and $13 for a meal, that’s between £5 and £7, which is crazily cheap considering the quality of most of the food. But even £5, twice a day, soon adds up, and as acceptable as the Asian-style pot noodles are, they’re hardly the most sustaining.

Thank God then for Vietnamese pork roll, or Banh Mi. I’d been told about these by a good friend who I staged at Noma with - he’d lived in Australia and Vietnam, working in Banh Mi shops in both countries, and fell so in love with them that he’s in the process of starting up his own Banh Mi shop in Quito, Ecuador. Looking forward to my stay there come November time!

From afar they sound somewhat mundane; a baguette with meat and veg filling, but when everything is combined they transform into something that’s just delicious – the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and all that. 

The traditional Banh Mi is comprised of a crunchy white baguette, a layer of chicken liver pate and mayo, fresh and pickled veg – cucumber, carrot and spring onion being the staple, occasionally daikon too, sliced or grilled pork, a handful of fresh coriander, some fresh chilli and a healthy spoonful of a sweet soy glaze. This is not to say you can’t get variations upon this, you’ll usually see a selection of different styles of pork, chicken, tofu, or just veg. 

As well as being mightily tasty, these pork rolls are incredibly cheap – you’re looking at $4 or $5 a pop, that’s around £2.50! Needless to say, I’ve lived off them for the last week or so, and I’m certainly not bored of them yet.

I mentioned in my last post about queue size being a good indicator for quality food at lunchtime in Chinatown, Phuong is no exception.  Going between 1 and 2 o’clock is a no-no unless you’re prepared to stand in a snaking queue out the door and round the corner for 20 minutes. 

Each Banh Mi is made fresh to order, so you can pick and choose your fillings, though opting for everything is of course sensible. The chillies deserve a special mention, they make it for me – with an almost pickled taste, they have a very quick ‘half-life;’ after a short initial hit of pungent heat, the sting resides within 10 seconds or so. 

There’s not too much more to say about these, they’re just baguettes, very good ones at that. Mi like Banh Mi. 

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