It all started with my Vietnamese aunt. Lunches at her house were sheets of rice rolls filled with wood fungus and pork mince, drenched in a pungent, sweet and salty fish sauce concoction. Or sometimes, it was spring rolls filled with a smooth paste of pork and prawn, wrapped in damp rice paper that was deep fried till puffy, golden, greasy and delicious. Wrapped in lettuce, herbs, bean sprouts and whisper thin onion slices, the spring rolls were eaten with copious amounts of that same hot fish sauce dip.
It was from this lucky education I learned to love the balance and lightness that is Vietnamese food. The cuisine is as succinct as French food, but redefined for a frugal, tropical country.
Short of flying there, we’re lucky to have great Vietnamese food in little old Perth. I’m usually itching for a fix every couple of weeks and we often head to my favourite Phong Vinh for quick work lunches. However on the weekends, we like to travel a bit further for a pho fix and that falls on Thanh Liem. On the weekends, this place heaves with families and more often than not, there’s not a single non-Asian face in the restaurant – and that means only one thing: local secret!
I’m not sure whether to be proud or ashamed, but we’ve actually tried a good deal of their menu. The bun bo hue (Hue spicy soup) is second only to Phong Vinh’s and the bun cha is pretty great. Get the bun cha (rice noodles) with the lot, the pork skin salad bi, grilled pork and meat balls and you will not be sorry.
However, the very best dish on their menu has to be their broken rice with three types of meat.
Broken rice with three types of meat: pork chop, bi (pork skin) and terrine.
The pork chop on this dish is what you smell as soon as you walk in. It’s marinated in honey and lemongrass then char grilled until it’s sticky and caramelised. It smells (and tastes) so freaking good, a vegetarian might have a problem with it. In fact the smell permeates the whole of the restaurant (so vegetarians beware). There’s also the particularly well seasoned bi (pork skin salad that tastes a lot better than it sounds), a large slab of the pork terrine, a fried egg and a big handful of pickled radish and carrots to round out the dome of broken rice.
The banh xeo is served so hot from the pan it’s still spitting oil while it’s cooling. It’s vivid yellow oiliness is thanks to the turmeric beaten into the egg. Banh xeo is basically an omelette, there’s seafood, barbeque pork and yellow mung beans set into the pancake, as well as a stuffing of cooked bean sprouts.
Mustard leaves, iceberg lettuce, penny wort, heaps of Vietnamese mint and batons of cucumber are wrapped around wads of the banh xeo, keeping our fingers clear of the grease. As best as I can, I try to wrap each roll tightly before dipping it into the fish sauce dressing and take a big bite. In one bite it’s both crispy and fresh, pungent, salty and with a bit of heat from the chilli. It’s really good, though I’m not won over by the penny wort which has a funky herbiness which surely is an acquired taste.
Pho with combination beef.
Thanh Liem’s pho is better than any Northbridge rendition in recent memory. The huge bowl is filled with the light, well seasoned broth, a good handful of noodles and lots of ‘combination’ meat including thin slices of fatty beef, raw beef fillet, beef balls and feathery slices of tripe. There are also tendons so soft I mistake them for cooked white radishes. They were so tender, chopsticks went straight through with no resistance. As usual the whole plateful of bean sprouts goes in to the broth, along with some ripped mint. I slurp up as much as I can, but there’s so much I don’t finish by a long shot. At $9.50, the pho is great value.
We could have stayed as long as we wanted, patting our bulging tummies (and sipping the gigantic thermos of free tea) but being a family restaurant there were kids racing around and people talking at the top of their voices. It’s chaotic but that’s small price to pay for some of the most authentic Viet food in Perth. Don’t forget to bring cash as there are no eftpos facilities.
Thanh Liem Noodles
1/73 Honeywell Blvd, Mirrabooka, WA 6061
T: (08) 9248 2612
Open 7 days 9am – 9pm
p.s. If you are still hungry (not sure how that’s possible after lunch at Hu Tieu) there’s an excellent banh mi shop called Ben Thanh, in the same complex.
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