Cafe de Palm
Have you ever eaten gà không lối thoát? It’s a dome of steamed sticky rice stuffed with chicken, then deep-fried. It comes to the table looking like a dinosaur egg – a bronzed ovular mass solid enough to roll down a hill. The edge is as crunchy as peanut brittle, but when you cut into it has the soft chewiness of a rice cake. In the centre there’s tender, tart and slightly sweet (from a long tamarind marinade) roast chicken.
A dish this theatrical isn’t usually seen outside big Vietnamese family celebrations, but you can get it at Cabramatta’s colourful Cafe de Palm.
Phu Tien Nguyen opened the venue in 2015 as a cafe with an enormous drinks list, including an array of Viet coffees and even more pick-your-own juices, smoothies and frappuccinos. Eventually Nguyen and his team added food, with options from all over Vietnam. Some of the most popular are bánh khọt (crunchy coconut-and-turmeric pikelets topped with prawns) and DIY rice-paper rolls with assorted barbeque pork skewers. There’s even an elaborate high-end seven-course beef-only banquet.
Another popular order is bún đậu, an assortment of northern-Vietnamese steamed meaty goods (pandan-spiced meatloaf, blood sausage, pork intestines, liver and steamed pork belly) arranged around a soupy pool of shrimp paste. Pick up a piece of fried tofu or steamed pork, a leaf of Vietnamese mint, some rice noodles, and wrap it all in rice paper. Dip that in the smelly shrimp paste for a pungent, umami-loaded kick.
Mellow out the flavour with an iced avocado, durian or coconut drink; a soursop smoothie; or a mixed juice of ambarella (or golden apple, an equatorial fruit), apple and salted plum. Or maybe just an orange juice.