Sep 082012
 

Growing up in Canberra meant that I had the opportunity to eat a lot of Vietnamese food. There was a cliche in Australia at one stage that a country town was not really home unless it had a pub or two and a Chinese restaurant – growing up in the 1970s this was still pretty much the case – these places usually served what the customers expected in the way of a westernised/training wheels version of Cantonese food – Beef in Black Bean Sauce, Sweet and Sour Pork, Spring Rolls, Fried Rice, Honey Prawns, Wan Ton soup – a cuisine all of its own. Some of these places are still there, and I used to seek them out every so often for a trip down memory lane into “small Aussie town Westernised Cantonese”. I’ve since – thankfully – been introduced to the delights of real Cantonese food, and many other authentic Chinese cuisines. But I digress.

Milk Coffee – Long Phung Restaurant

My local “Asian” restaurant growing up in 1970s Canberra at one stage was the Vietnam Village Inn at the Page shops. The owner (Van from memory) was a very patient man, explaining Vietnamese cuisine to a whole generation of people hitherto unfamiliar with authentic non-Western food. I remember my mother telling my siblings and I that it was like Chinese food only Vietnamese – just a little different to what we were used to and that we would like it. I loved it.

As an adult, I grew accustomed to the wonders of Banh Xeo (Vietnamese Crepes) and Steamed Duck Noodle soup at Can Tho Restaurant (Belconnen), and Garlic Rice, Ginger Chicken and Red Cooked Beef at Tu Do (O’Connor) – and many fine dishes besides.

Steamed Duck Noodle, Can Tho Restaurant, Belconnen, Australia

I have to say that I missed this level of taste and quality on first coming to Singapore, and eventually put it out of mind after some bad food court experiences. Eventually, though, the craving returned. The answer was, apparently, Little Vietnam.

We researched the Little Vietnam area and talked to friends about their preferences (a good thing to do in Singapore). My thanks to the Twice As Delicious crew for their excellent overview of Joo Chiat Road and the associated follow on posts – they were very helpful.

We started at the Geylang end of Joo Chiat Road – where the eateries and supply shops are very much Malay/Muslim rather than Vietnamese. As an aside, I am a big fan of Malay food and will be going back to this area for it on another trip – and to take in the nearby Geylang Serai centre. On this trip we were looking for Vietnamese food, so we kept walking.

Another couple of minutes walk and we saw our first Vietnamese cafe – but we’d decided that our first stop was to be the popular Long Phung Restaurant. Apart from the Twice As Delicious mention, Long Phung has an 89% approval rating on Hungry Go Where with over a hundred votes (a solid recommendation).

Long Phung immediately felt familiar to me – it brought back happy memories of Sunday lunch at Can Tho in Belconnen – the smell of rich Pho broth, fish sauce and chili – the only sound softly spoken Vietnamese.

This is the Spicy Beef Noodle Soup at Long Phung – rich soup broth, tender chunks of brisket, fresh herb flavour, hot with pepper and chili. The smell was delicious and the taste better. This was why I came – this is the quality of Vietnamese food I was missing:

We also tried the Pork Chop Noodle:

The Pork Chop Noodle was OK – not as intense as the Spicy Beef Noodle, but certainly better than you’d find in a food court somewhere else. Overall, my rating for Long Phung is “Love it, will go back” :)

We wandered back up Joo Chiat Road and had a second look – there are a number of other eateries there worth a try (and a mention in future posts).

Next, we went to the Little Vietnam Restaurant Cafe. It is at 511 Guillemard Road, just off Geylang Road (and noticeably closer to the in/famous red light area there). This place also featured in a post from the Twice As Delicious folks – the food and the beverage selection gets a good mention there. It has a 69% approval rating on Hungry Go Where.

I have to say that I was disappointed there were no steamed snails available – for a place that opens at 4PM to have run out of an ingredient by 5:30PM seemed a little hard to believe, but it is possible. Regardless, there was indeed beer.

Because we started with beer, we ordered the mixed finger food – deep fried chunks of fish ball and sausage:

The taste of the finger food was, well, OK. I’m not sure what I was expecting, to be fair. Comparing the same price (SGD5) to the excellent Spicy Beef Noodle that I’d had at Long Phung, the finger food was in second place.

We also ordered the spring rolls:

The spring rolls were not great – they were about on par taste (very subtle) and texture (somewhat soggy) wise with my earlier food court experiences. Perhaps there are regional variations in Vietnam that I was never exposed to as an Australian, and this is just how spring rolls are done (note to self: must get to Vietnam ASAP to investigate this!).

Things improved dramatically – dessert was a shared plate of excellent creamy sweet Banana Sago:

I still yearned for more – I wanted to experience something remarkable from Little Vietnam Restaurant. I ordered the Garlic Cockles (look for “crockles” in the menu). We could here them rattling around in a wok shortly thereafter.

The cockles were simply awesome. Juicy, flavoursome, the taste and the sight and the smell fresh and delicious. Whatever disappointments there were from earlier in the meal disappeared.

Over all, I’d have to say that while there were some small disappointments, the Little Vietnam area is an excellent food safari destination. I’ll go back to Long Phung for sure, and sample more of their menu – and go back to the Little Vietnam Restaurant for the cockles and (fingers crossed) the snails.