Xuan Banh Cuon

Tasty and basic: Xuan Banh Cuon.
Tasty and basic: Xuan Banh Cuon. Photo: Mal Fairclough

232 Hampshire Road Sunshine, Victoria 3020

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Opening hours Daily 8am-8pm
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)
Phone 03 9364 8992

Within a few minutes' walk of Sunshine's shiny new train station, in the western hub's not-so-shiny shopping strip, a hungry person can choose from Indian, African, Chinese, Latin American, Italian and Afghan menus. Among all this multi-culti yum, a tasty little pocket of Hai Phong is thriving.

Specialties from the northern Vietnamese port city don't make much of an appearance in Melbourne so it's exciting to come to eat steamed rice paper rolls (buan cuon), red noodles with crab paste (banh da cua) and sticky rice cakes.

The buan cuon are made from rice flour batter that's steamed over cloth to form translucent  crepes - owner Xuan T. Dinh crafts them daily at the counter. The classic version (No. 1 on the menu) is filled with sauteed pork, prawn, and mushroom slivers, then rolled and topped with crisp onions and pork floss (pounded dried pork fluff, made here). I would eat these sticky, springy cylinders every day if I could, dunked in a bowl of sour, salty nuoc cham (fish sauce).

The banh cuon nhan (pork and prawn-filled steamed rice paper rolls).
The banh cuon nhan (pork and prawn-filled steamed rice paper rolls). Photo: Mal Fairclough

Slices of pork loaf nestle against the crepes, a sturdy terrine that's a reminder of Vietnam's French colonial history. Crab paste is another Hai Phong tradition.

Whole crabs are boiled, smashed, then formed into loose meatballs. The pungent paste turns up in a few dishes, most notably in a filling soup (No. 6) with slippery red rice noodles tangled with beef-stuffed vine leaves, raw onion, tofu and fish cakes in a deeply porky base.

At a neat $3, sticky rice stuffed with sweet bean paste (No. 22) is one of the cheapest and most
satisfying snacks in town.

More familiar pho (noodle soups) and dry vermicelli noodle dishes also feature on a pleasingly tight menu that only runs to 23 items.

The food is good, cheap and fast but Xuan Banh Cuon is a basic experience otherwise, with wall-mounted TV, humming fridges, chatty exhaust fan and functional but not quite friendly service. I'm not sure that the old pie warmer is a great place to keep a dustpan but maybe it's all over Pinterest tagged as "storage solutions".

Sunshine isn't on everyone's itinerary but a zone two Metro trip is a cheap way to get the world on your plate and Xuan Banh Cuon is a tasty port of call.

Rating: Three stars (out of five).