Vietnamese Food Train Trip

A few weeks ago, on our first culinary adventure, ‘Martha Stewart’ and I took a ‘train trip’ to Cabramatta to sample some authentic Vietnamese food. Initially we had marketed it to our other colleagues as a ‘road trip’, but as one of them pointed out, neither of us were driving so how can it be a road trip? Fine, a ‘train trip’ it is then.

Although I had done some extensive ‘research’ prior to the trip (consisting of asking the Vietnamese PA at work), the premature and unexpected hot weather rendered pho unappealing and unsuitable for lunch that day. Further, we were both starving by the time we arrived in Cabramatta, and the restaurants that were recommended to me had long queues.

Time for Plan B.

After some impromptu Urbanspooning, we decided on Tuong Lai, a little restaurant tucked in an alleyway just off John Street. Although the the queue outside its doors initially put us off, turnover was quick so we were seated at a table about 5 minutes later.

It was a tight squeeze manouvering to our table at the end of the restaurant, as the tables were packed closely together and every seat was occupied. Just like the others around us, ‘Martha Stewart’ and I shared a table with two other patrons.  The furnishings were bare and minimal with its menu hung up on the walls in Vietnamese, Chinese and English. Its simplicity only served to remind me of the local restaurants in China where the food served was unpretentious and delicious.

Sitting down and reading their menu, it dawned on me how limited my exposure to Vietnamese cuisine thus far has been, as the offerings at Tuong Lai were mostly unfamiliar to me and ‘Martha Stewart’ was just as clueless. I spent a while flipping through its menu completely at a loss at what to try. I looked around and saw a lot of people had ordered a spicy looking noodle soup, or glass noodle stir fries, neither of which I was particularly in the mood for that day. Further adding to my indecisiveness, once I had decided, it turned out to be the same dish ‘Martha Stewart’ wanted too.

Thankfully, the waitress realised we were in a bit of a pickle and helped us order….

Spring Rolls Although not particularly aesthetic, wrapped in a leaf of crisp lettuce, it was a match in heaven!
Spring Rolls
Although not particularly aesthetic, when wrapped in a leaf of lettuce, it was a match in heaven! I love the juxtaposition of the hot and cold, the oily crunch against the fresh crispness…
Lemongrass chicken vermicelli salad This was one of the better vermicelli salads I've had. I love it when the chicken is flavoursome, the salad is fresh and there are plenty of peanuts.
Lemongrass chicken vermicelli salad
Vermicelli salad is what I tend to order at Vietnamese restaurants; it’s a safe and familiar choice. To my great pleasure, this was one of the better vermicelli salads I have eaten. I love it when the chicken is tasty, the salad is fresh, and the dish is topped with plenty of peanuts and herbs.
Marinated beef with tomato rice. This was the dish I initially wanted to order. I thought the tomato rice wasn't flavoursome enough. My colleague added some dried chilli sauce  to it and enjoyed it that way.
Marinated beef with tomato rice
This was the dish I initially wanted to order. I thought the tomato rice wasn’t flavoursome enough. ‘Martha Stewart’ added some dried chilli sauce to it and enjoyed it that way.

Even though the restaurant was full and there was a continuous stream of customers entering and leaving, they seem to have a well organised system in place as our food was brought to us promptly.

During my ‘research’, it had been strongly pitched to me that I should try a cane, or avocado, or kumquat juice from one of the many vendors in Cabra. Whilst I was that close to buying an avocado and durian juice, I ended getting kumquat and it was the right decision since our lunch was so filling!

Next time, I DEFINITELY will be getting the avocado and durian!

We took an Arabic detour at Merrylands on the way home; explored some Lebanese stores for spices, picked up some non-alcoholic beers, and ‘Martha Stewart’ also bought the Arabic coffee and coffee set which she served me when we made our Cauliflower Pizza.

Despite being a long journey, our ‘train trip’ was all worth it in the end. Perhaps I can persuade more people to get on to join the ‘train movement’ – that should get people on the right track!

Tuong Lai Vietnamese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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