Stressed and tense after an unfamiliar hour-long drive from my home to Cabramatta I breathe deeply as I walk through the station to our meeting place. People of South East Asian background and a couple of African background stream down the stairs as they exit the station. I, a white Australian, am in the minority.
Taste Tours introduce Cabramatta
A young man, wearing the bright yellow T-Shirt which identifies him as a Taste Tour guide, walks towards me. My Cabramatta tour with Taste Tours begins here at Vinata’s Hot Bread shop.
Banh Mi or Pork Roll
When the rest of our group arrives, Tirian offers our first ‘taste’ of the day: a tray of filled rolls divided into manageable portions.
These are not just any old rolls. Banh Mi, meaning Vietnamese sandwich, contains layers of BBQ pork, pork paté and traditional vegetables within a crusty roll. Having skipped breakfast, I welcome this tasty bite with its slightly tangy flavour.
It’s Lunar New Year
Locals crowd the footpath as they go about their shopping. With Lunar New Year celebrations beginning, people search for gifts, traditional foodstuffs and decorations for celebrating New Year. Most wear masks and we don ours as social distancing is impossible.
The queue for a popular restaurant stretches around the corner. Tirian explains that this restaurant, like many in Cabramatta, hasn’t changed in 40 years. Owned and run by locals, restaurants and shops here buy their groceries and ingredients from each other. They can buy everything they need in Cabramatta.
Local Scenes in Cabramatta
A Buddhist monk walks past, head bowed and one arm curled around a bowl as he collects alms. “Most Vietnamese in Cabramatta are Buddhist” explains Tirian.
Little elderly women wearing hats pull two wheeled shopping trolleys behind them. Locals tend to shop daily to get the freshest ingredients.
Tastes of Vietnam (and Thailand)
At Huong Xua, the waiter pours small cups of Assam tea and then places a large bowl of pho in front of each person. Traditional to the colder north of Vietnam, pho broth should cook for at least 24 hours before adding the noodles and then the raw meat just before serving. Bean sprouts and a squeeze of lime finish the dish off.
Because it’s so busy, Tirian has adapted his route and we criss cross the plaza keeping his yellow shirt in view. Trying not to block the pavement, we wait as he orders our next treat.
Sugarcane juice street stalls are found everywhere in South-East Asia. Here, at Thu Phung Sugar Cane Juice Bar, people queue for their juice.
A man in our group is surprised by the price saying “Two for $5.00 is good value. I usually pay $5.00 for one”. I welcome the cold freshly squeezed sugarcane juice as the day is heating up.
Tirian hands us each a “banana sweet” from Kaysone Sweets, a Thai shop. The crunchy freshly deep-fried small banana isn’t too sweet. The shop also sells sweet potato or taro fritters and a kind of Lao beef jerky. Next door, boxes of sweets packaged in red and gold for New Year overflow onto the pavement.
No. 1 Shopping Cabramatta
Squeezing my way past crowds of people in No. 1 Shopping Cabramatta, I keep Tirian’s yellow shirt in view. I know most but not all the fruit and veggies on display at the fruit market. Next door at the fish market, an assistant adds ice to trays of fresh fish.
In a quieter corner, Tirian offers a plastic takeaway box filled with more Thai sweets of various flavours and colours. I lever a large yellowish cube of sticky rice onto a serviette. It is coconut. A guest thinks theirs is durian and the bright green one could be pandan.
Someone says they’re full. Tirian replies “Full? We’ve still got quite a bit to go”.
He explains that in Vietnam and China people celebrate Lunar New Year now, but in Thailand the Songkran Festival, the Traditional Thai New Year, as well as in Laos and Cambodia, New Year happens in April.
Prior to New Year (Tet in Vietnamese) people clean their homes and decorate them in preparation for the New Year. If at all possible, they don’t work on New Year’s Day because that will “set them up for a year of work” says Tirian.
Shops display parcels wrapped up in pandan leaves which add flavour to the contents and also help to preserve them.
“You could be in Vietnam”
BBQ duck hangs in the window Tan Hong Phat BBQ. Another long-term resident of Cabramatta they also sell both BBQ port (Char Siu). Local restaurants buy their pork and duck here.
The cold sliced pork, edges tinged with a red marinade, has a slightly sweet taste. A man walks past carrying a tray of two very large pieces of BBQ pork covered in red cellophane.
My friend, who has never been to Cabramatta, observes “You could be in Vietnam couldn’t you?”
Time marches on, and we briefly explore the aisles of a local supermarket where packed shelves display anything from cleaning products and implements to crockery, sweets, and packaged foodstuffs.
At Thanh Binh, we enjoy two Central/Southern Vietnamese dishes.
Minced prawn wrapped around a sugar cane forms the basis for a type of spring roll which we prepare ourselves. After softening the rice paper in hot water, I layer a flat bundle of rice noodles, the prawn ‘cake’, mint and bean sprouts in the middle and roll the paper around the contents. Dipping my imperfect roll into the fish sauce, I realise I need more practice.
The second dish is Banh Xeo or Vietnamese Crepe filled with bean sprouts and other goodies. While it looks like an omelette, the yellow colouring actually comes from turmeric.
The Perfect Ending
We end this delicious Taste of Cabramatta tour with a Vietnamese coffee. Made with strong drip coffee and condensed milk poured over a cup of ice it’s strong and sweet.
Today I’ve enjoyed a Taste of Vietnam and been introduced to many new taste experiences. While the tour is fast paced, it provides a perfect introduction. I look forward to returning and exploring the suburb more slowly.
Note: I participated in the tour at my own expense.
Prefer to discover places independently? Then have a look at my post on Cabramatta for a self-guided Cabramatta tour.