117 John St Cabramatta, NSW 2166
|Opening hours||Daily 9am-9pm|
|Features||Cheap and cheerful|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Phone||02 9724 2188|
For the past 10 years I've ordered the same things at Phu Quoc in Cabramatta. One serve of spring rolls and one serve of sugarcane prawns, please.
Their spring rolls aren't the frozen variety you might find lying limply in a bain-marie. These are spectacular cylinders of pork and vegetables wrapped in rice-paper and cooked on a lower heat for longer to ensure maximum crunch. One serve gets you four massive rolls, cut in half, alongside a pile of herbs and lettuce. Grab a scalding hot spring roll, wrap it in herbs and lettuce, dunk it in the nuoc cham dipping sauce and pretend you're in Saigon.
Phu Quoc is the Vietnamese restaurant I send friends to if they can only stay in Cabramatta for one meal, instead of the slow pilgrimage down John Street I suggest everyone does at least annually, stopping for a sugar-cane juice from Thu Phung N, a banh mi from KK Bakery and a pandan waffle from Viet Hoa before trying to fit as much of Phu Quoc's menu into whatever space is left in your stomach.
Hoang Cam Le has been working at Phu Quoc since it opened in 2005. "Everything in the restaurant was prepared by my boss, Mrs Be," he tells me.
Before she opened Phu Quoc, Mrs Be was the head chef at Thanh Binh, a legendary Vietnamese restaurant down the road that was once run by Angie Hong, mother of Merivale chef Dan Hong.
"My family is from the south of Vietnam," says Cam. "Saigon is my home town. There is a lot of good food like pho, and so much street food that you can enjoy any time."
I like sending friends to Phu Quoc because of the variety of Vietnamese dishes on the menu. There are soups, noodles, salads, the aforementioned spring rolls and a bevy of roll-your-own rice-paper roll options, the best of which come with sugarcane prawns.
Plump and pink, sugarcane prawns come finely minced, wrapped around a stick of sugarcane, and deep fried. Using a pair of plastic-handled scissors to snip the prawn into pieces , you wrap it in rice-paper with some herbs, cucumber and steamed rice noodles, dip it in nuoc cham and spill a third of it down your T-shirt. Phu Quoc is an excellent place to visit if you like eating with your hands.
I've ordered the same two dishes for 10 years but as my family expands, we've had to add an extra dish to our order with each visit.
Banh cuon, a fairly hard-to-find Vietnamese street food dish, has been a huge hit. It's a plate of steamed rice batter rolls filled with minced pork and mushrooms, piled high with slices of processed meats, bean sprouts and holy basil, ready to be drowned in the slightly spicy, very fishy nuoc cham.
It's one of many reasons to visit Cabramatta, a place that I think is as important when visiting Sydney as the Harbour Bridge. Even if you live in Sydney, a visit to Cabramatta can feel like a mini holiday.
Cam from Phu Quoc agrees. "To me, Cabramatta is a place that can feel like I'm in Saigon, still hearing the noise from some vendors. I can see a lot of restaurants where I can have my favourite food like I used to have in Saigon," he says.
"Besides that, Cabramatta is city of Vietnamese people that's giving me a chance to grow my kids up like my parents did to me."
Must-order dish Cha gio (spring rolls), $13