Bunches of bright green herbs, swinging paper lanterns, and creative rice paper rolls.
Welcome to Cabramatta, the fragrant heart of Australia’s Vietnamese cuisine scene. The Western Sydney suburb began to flourish in the 1970s when refugees arrived after the long Vietnam War. After a troubled period in the 1970s and 80s, the area grew into a thriving business centre with a keen sense of itself as a modern food destination.
Foodies pour in every weekend in search of an authentic taste of Vietnam. And nobody’s ever disappointed.
John Street is the focal point for food tourists and the road boasts every Vietnamese flavour you can imagine.
Want some banh mi? Bun bo hue? Perhaps pho or some crispy skinned chicken? All this – and much, much more – can be found along the long, busy John Street.
Meet a local
Food and travel blogger Jimmy Dau’s family arrived in Australia as Vietnamese refugees in 1978. His childhood memories are full of weekends in Cabramatta visiting family, celebrating festivals and of course, eating.
With each restaurant specialising in a particular type of dish, there’s plenty of choice depending on what you’re after.
Pho, a tasty broth with beef and noodles, is the soup best known and suited to western palates. Preferred by the true Asian food connoisseur is bun bo hue, a spicy beef and noodle soup served with a plate of herbs, chillies and lime wedges. It’s not for the faint hearted, but foodies game to try can sample at a number of John Street eateries.
Up the street at Thanh Binh you can find patrons packing the restaurant on weekdays and tucking into a lunch of sugarcane prawn, wrapping rice noodle around a mix of herbs and seafood.
“For crispy skin chicken there is Tan Viet,” Jimmy added.
A popular choice from Cabramatta’s many bakeries is bahn mi – a fresh bread roll filled with pork, pate, mayo and pickled salad.
“Vinata’s Hot Bakery is the best,” said Matt Kahler, the area’s business development executive for Coca-Cola Amatil. “People come from all over Sydney for their rolls.”
And for the truly adventurous? Jimmy has one great recommendation. “If you find a place that does crispy fried quails, try it,” he said.
It’s not just eating that makes a trip to Cabramatta worthwhile. Walking down the streets, through the arcades and wandering in and out of canteens and restaurants, you’re surrounded by the smells and sounds of another place, and reminded that this is multicultural Sydney at its best