Co Thu Quan review

Banh trang tron (rice paper salad).
Banh trang tron (rice paper salad). Photo: Eddie Jim

10 Droop St Footscray, VIC 3011

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Phone 03 9689 1451

Banh trang tron is a snack that's not often found outside Vietnam. Sold almost exclusively on the street, and delivered to the customer in a plastic bag with a set of chopsticks, the easiest way to describe it is as a rice paper salad.

The thin rice paper discs that are usually moistened and used as a wrap are instead shredded, and tossed with whatever is on hand, generally something sweet and something fishy and lime juice and chilli paste.

The rice paper becomes moistened, but not so much as to achieve noodle texture; the ultra-thin shards take on a slightly sticky, almost candied quality that are chewy and shattery all at once.

Co Thu Quan Vietnamese restaurant in Footscray.
Co Thu Quan Vietnamese restaurant in Footscray. Photo: Eddie Jim

In Melbourne, you can get banh trang tron at Co Thu Quan in Footscray, along with many other regional Vietnamese dishes you'd never find at your standard pho house. Co Thu Quan was among the 25 businesses lost when the Little Saigon market burned down in 2016.

Soon after, they opened in Richmond, and this past June, they relaunched in their own stylish Footscray space, its ceiling festooned with conical paper hats turned upside-down and repurposed as lamps.

Their version of banh trang tron is shot through with beef jerky, dried shredded squid, dried shrimp, fried shallots, herbs and peanuts, and topped with hard-boiled quail eggs and a halved cumquat.

The rice paper salad is delivered in a plastic bag with a set of chopsticks.
The rice paper salad is delivered in a plastic bag with a set of chopsticks. Photo: Eddie Jim

There's a spicy version that's much simpler, with little to distract you from the texture of the rice paper and the heat of its chilli coating.

Beyond the rice paper salads, the menu is brimming with hard-to-find regional specialties, so much so that it's overwhelming (though there are detailed descriptions of each dish). This is the type of place you could eat at daily and it would take months to get through the offerings.

A good place to start is the canh bun, or water spinach crab noodles. The Northern Vietnamese dish has a delicate broth made from chicken and freshwater crab paste, which holds thick rice noodles (the day I had it, they were very much like spaghetti), a pork and crab meatball, fried tofu, water spinach and a wobbling square of congealed pork blood. The soup is complex and alluring, like eating an entire ecosystem.

Canh bun (water spinach noodle soup).
Canh bun (water spinach noodle soup). Photo: Eddie Jim

There are all manner of spring rolls and rice dishes, pho and grilled meat wrapped in betel leaves.

But the fun of Co Thu Quan is in finding things you may have never seen outside Vietnam, whether they be new to you, reminiscent of that meal you once ate standing on a Hanoi street corner, or a blessed taste of home.