232 Hampshire Road
Sunshine, VIC 3020
Coriander is one of the most polarising foods out there; there’s even a Facebook page dedicated solely to denouncing this particular herb. As it turns out, there are genetic variants affecting somewhere between 4% and 33% (depending on which article you read) of people that cause coriander to taste like soap. I personally love coriander, but Chris can sense the stuff a mile off, and not in the good way either. This makes eating Vietnamese food somewhat of a problematic and one-sided affair.
Every now and then however, I manage to convince Chris to have Vietnamese food for dinner, on the proviso that there is something on the menu that isn’t laced with coriander. That’s just as well, because after reading this article, I’ve been extremely keen on trying Xuan Banh Cuon.
In a suburb that is over-saturated with Vietnamese food, how does one manage to stand out? The answer is simple – by serving up Northern Vietnamese food; something rarely seen around Melbourne.
Xuan banh Cuon is a family venture, that much is clear. The Xuan family are dedicated to cooking up dishes from their home village, which is right near the northern coastal town of Hai Phong.
The drawcard on the menu is the Banh Cuon Nhan ($11) – a delectable dish of translucent rice paper sheets, rolled around a filling of pork mince and crunchy wood ear mushrooms. Although I haven’t had much banh cuon in my time, I could tell this was a fine specimen. The delicate sheets of rice batter were tacky and pliant, through which the rich aromas of the pork and fried scallions shone clearly. To complete the complex palette of flavours was a massive plate of sprouts and herbs, and a bowl of slightly sweetened fish sauce. The only thing I wasn’t a huge fan of was the pork loaf – I’ve had much nicer ones in the past.
Another dish I’d never seen before was the Banh De Cua ($12), a specialty of Hai Phong. I’m tempted to call the broth a halfway point between tom yum and pho; the broth is light and aromatic, but given a mild briny tang with the addition of crab paste and tomatoes.
Hidden beneath the surface was a variety of toppings, including slices of pork, fish cakes, vine-leaf wrapped beef sausage, prawns, and of course, fresh veggies and herbs. The noodles were ‘specialty red noodles’ – wide, chewy strands that I couldn’t help but feel was exactly like fettuccini!
As someone who (as far as I know) hasn’t had northern Vietnamese food before, Xuan Banh Cuon is a revelation. The food is fresh and vibrant, and it was an absolute delight to discover a side of Vietnamese cuisine that I have never seen. This place is worth the 17 minute train ride from the city, even if you live in the eastern suburbs like me.
Rating: 14/20 – a whole new world.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.