For a very, very, very long time Vietnamese food intimidated me. I didn’t ever think I could cook it as well as my mother, grandmothers or aunties, so I didn’t even bother. So at home I would always cook Italian, Turkish, French, American, Chinese, Japanese, you name it, I’d try it. But never food from the motherland. Nah uh. Then, a couple of years ago, I threw caution to the wind and went for it, and I’ve never looked back. It’s just so damn light, fresh, delicate, fragrant, and most of the time so simple to make.
And now, there’s Phamily Kitchen on Smith St, which pays homage to these family favourites, along with nods to the Victoria St/Footscray/Cabramatta/Inala/Darra restaurants of my youth. Bright colours, pastel pink ceilings, melamine cutlery, Chinese tea, freaky-coloured drinks, it’s all there.
Whenever my friend Nathan and I wander down to Victoria St for an impromptu feed, he always feels compelled to order Banh Xeo. Since most places smash it out in the largest family-sized wok they can find, it usually becomes a group meal – a bit of a spectacle, especially when we’re a bit rowdy. However on a recent trip back to the motherland I discovered that the ladies at Ba Le Well Kitchen in Hoi An cook them in these elegant little pans, on butane burners in a row of 12 at a time. I was inspired by this slightly daintier cooking method – it’s less of a food orgy, and far tastier than the jumbo family-woks I’ve become accustomed to.
This dish is great for so many reasons. Besides being amazingly crispy, and easy; it looks damn impressive – the batter is easy to make, the bright yellow colour pops on the table and is certain to get mouths watering.