I’m not vegetarian but I can appreciate a good vegetarian restaurant when I encounter one! And Bo De Trai, a cheap and cheerful vegetarian Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant in Footscray, is awesome. In fact, I think some of their dishes are better than their original meaty versions.
Bo De Trai is a restaurant which is linked to the Quang Minh Buddhist Temple in Braybrook and all the profits go back to fund the temple’s work (if that makes you more or less inclined to eat there).
Over time I’ve eaten a large portion of their menu, eat-in and takeaway. My advice is to stick to the rice paper rolls, the crispy spring rolls and the soup noodles, particularly the Vietnamese style dishes. I’ve heard the claypot and slow-cooked dishes are good but from my experience I’d avoid anything stir-fried – their technique is on the clammy, saucy side.
To start try the Bo Bia. Five huge rice paper rolls absolutely stuffed with mixed stir-fried vegies and a fairly standard dipping sauce. You could easily fill up on a plate of these and there’s your lunch or dinner for only $6.50.
My go-to dish is Bun Hue, a colourful spicy noodle soup filled with chunks of tofu, fried gluten and vegetables ($9). You can pile your bowl even higher with the accompanying array of bean sprouts and different mint leaves. The broth is the highlight, as it has a surprising amount of flavour given it’s vegetarian. Be warned the chilli factor is pretty high so you may not necessarily want to add the fresh chilli that’s provided.
The other dish which is an excellent interpretation of the original is the Bun Rieu ($9). Normally a homestyle tomato-based vermicelli soup with crab, the vegetarian version used egg. In texture it was completely different of course but in taste it was spot on. Very comforting on a cold day.
There’s only one choice of dessert – a ‘caramel cake’ for a measly $1.50! It’s actually a little plastic tub of creme caramel and quite delicious – smooth and silky with a deep caramel flavour.
The staff are volunteers and hence the service is almost non-existent though confusedly friendly when it happens. People sort of amble in the back rooms doing whatever until you poke your head in or you have to wave your arms about wildly if staff are, by chance, serving someone else. Not everyone speaks English so you may have to do a bit of sign language to be understood.
Just call it a genuine experience of what it would be like to dine out (vegetarian) in Vietnam.