What we’re used to in Australia is generally southern Vietnamese cuisine with a smattering of northern Vietnamese dishes – but food from the middle region doesn’t tend to get much of a look in.
At Qua’n 888 they specialise in food from the cities of Da Nang, Hoi An and Hue. You can find the small restaurant in Little Saigon market, at the opposite end of the crowded chaos of the fresh food stalls.
The decor is serviceable and filled with neon, food posters and random Vietnamese/Chinese bric-a-brac. The service is very friendly and the young owners speak English, which helps if you need guidance through the menu.
They have two noodle best-sellers – Bun Cha Ca Da Nang (Da Nang style vermicelli fish cake soup) and My Quang (Quang Nam style noodle with sauteed pork, prawn and quail egg) (both $10). I tried the former, which came out with the pungent purple shrimp paste and additional chilli and garlic thoughtfully presented to one side along with the crunchy bean shoots and mint leaves.
I happen to love the strong, stinky aroma of shrimp paste and if you choose not to tip in the whole dish of condiments the soup becomes less rounded in flavour and frankly less interesting. The fishcakes were squishy and chewy, like fried tofu puffs, and very distinct from the bland pouffes you often get from commercial packets.
I also tried the banh selection, which offers three different forms of steamed glutinous rice cake with various fillings ($10). I particularly loved the mouth feel of the slippery, translucent banh loc, the shorter of the two rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves and filled with prawn and pork. The banh nam, the longer of the wrapped parcels, was too mushy for my liking and contained prawn, pork and mushrooms. The banh beo in the little bowls were freshly steamed to order and sort of an in-between in texture topped with shrimp, fried shallots and shards of peanut. You dip the rice cakes as you wish in a nuoc cham.
To drink I tried the homemade corn milk, a refreshing concoction of freshly squeezed corn juice, condensed milk, cow’s milk and sugar ($4). Next time I’m going to try their homemade soy milk ($4).
When I paid the friendly owner told me that I must return on a weekend to try the Cao Lau Hoi An, Hoi An style noodles with roast pork. There’s only limited availability because the noodles are hard to source, while the pork is apparently similar to char siu.
Like Co Thu Quan next door, I love that Qua’n 888 is introducing Melburnians to the distinctive regional flavours of Vietnam. You won’t find their style of food everywhere and if you’re keen to explore more than pho and rice paper rolls then try it out.