28 Buckingham Ave Springvale, VIC 3171
|Opening hours||Daily 8.30am-9pm|
|Features||BYO, Cheap Eats|
|Phone||03 9540 3551|
Tomatoes are gone. Basil has bolted. Quinces and chestnuts are clamouring. Produce makes a parade of the seasons and so do appetites: a hot-weather hankering for salad and sorbet turns into winter's fierce cry for the succour of soup. I heeded the hollering one recent chilly night and followed my soupy sixth sense to Springvale.
Twenty-three kilometres south-east of the city, this is one of Melbourne's most multicultural suburbs with residents born in 99 countries and three-quarters of households speaking a language other than English. Vietnamese is predominant but many other languages are sprinkled in the Springvale singsong.
This is a good place to eat – and to buy Asian groceries – with dozens of cheap and cheerful restaurants dotted around the Balmoral Avenue shopping strip. My Cambodia is one of the best: it's been here for more than a decade and has barely had a quiet day.
Owner Kun Lay is the matriarch of a Cambodian-Chinese family and the custodian of dozens of hand-me-down recipes. Chef Quy is Vietnamese; he also feeds into the large menu of 100-plus dishes, which is dotted with Thai dishes too. That's not just random cuisine collecting; the Khmers of Cambodia also live in adjoining Thailand and Vietnam and Cambodian food is similarly border-hopping.
Soup dishes leap off the laminated pictorial pages, all of them based on deeply flavoured broths cooked in large pots for hour upon hour. The Cambodian five-spice noodle soup is based on slow-simmered beef broth, boosted with tender beef cubes, jelly-like nuggets of tendon, spongy pieces of tripe, lettuce, herbs, carrot, bean shoots and onion. A tangle of rice noodles sits in the base of the bowl, slowly absorbing the liquid.
Honestly, this soup has it all: freshness, comfort, sustenance, flavour, and the characteristic Cambodian balance of salty, sweet and sour. If tripe and tendon spike your "ickometer" you can ask them to leave the innards out. However, if you eat them, I reckon you can feel the gelatinous goodness of the offal seeping into your bones, fortifying them for winter.
The collection of Cambodian soups includes traditional lemongrass chicken broth and a fish soup with pork ribs. Thai curried soups and Vietnamese-style noodle soups round out the tasty range. Most soups here can be served in different sizes – very big and incredibly massive – so you can have a soup-sharing party if the urge strikes.
Non-soup winners include prawn tails wrapped in spring roll pastry to create crisp shellfish bites, a huge turmeric-tinged Vietnamese pancake, wok-fried and folded over minced chicken and shrimp, and the must-have tender beef cubes with red rice. Lightly marinated with a lick of soy-umami, the beef is flash fried at super high heat so it's crisp but tender. It's simple but the finely balanced flavours and judicious timing make it a winner.
There's nothing salubrious about My Cambodia: its approach to feeding the community is practical and workmanlike. At busy times you may be asked if you mind sharing a table; it might be with a solo guy in high-vis, a multi-gen family with bub in a high chair, or a can't-be-bothered-cooking troupe of suits. Whoever you are, service is efficient and no nonsense, balanced with a real – and understandable – pride in the family recipes that put the "my" into My Cambodia.
Rating: Three stars (out of five)