Monday, October 25, 2010

Dong Que

On the great wagon trail of life, it's easy to get stuck in a rut.  With Vietnamese food, I have a real tendency to get stuck on certain dishes.  For an inordinately long time, I couldn't eat anything but sliced beef pho.  My affection for these seemingly bottomless bowls of broth seemed similarly limitless.  Later I became obsessed with sugarcane prawns or beef & lemongrass rice vermicelli salads.  Like a fly trapped in honey, being in love with a particular dish is a delicious problem to have.  Every so often, though, you have to wrench yourself away from your comfy surroundings and go in search of new territory.

Dong Que is a great little restaurant where I am sure that even the most seasoned Vietnamese food conoisseurs would find something to surprise them.  The walls are covered in enticing pictures of its specialties.  The dishes here have a northern Vietnamese bent, with its offerings of grilled fish with dill (cha ca thang long), steamed rice paper (banh cuon), and snail soup (bun oc).

Southern Vietnamese food is known for its lush use of herbs and other greenery, and it is this subset of Vietnamese cuisine that dominates the Vietnamese restaurants here in Australia.  In southern Vietnam, lime and tamarind are used to add a sour flavour, and coconut milk is used for sweet and mild curries.  Northern Vietnamese food is said to be somewhat plainer and more reminiscent of its Chinese heritage.  Soy sauce is used as freely as fish sauce, vinegar may be used to add sourness, while black pepper can add heat rather than chillies.  Long, slow cooking is used to draw out flavour - indeed, pho has its origins in northern Vietnam and did not become popular in the South until the 1950s.

 Cha gio Dong Que (authentic Vietnamese spring rolls), $10

Think you know everything there is to know about the humble cha gio or spring roll?  Think again.  The truly traditional cha gio is not made with a wheat wrapper, but with rice paper, a la goi cuon or Vietnamese rice paper rolls.  As Wandering Chopsticks explains, when the first Vietnamese communities were being established both in the USA and here, rice paper was not readily available, so cooks turned to the more freely available Chinese wheat wrappers.  I have also read that wheat wrappers retain their crispness better, and I would imagine that they freeze better than rice paper, so despite the face that rice paper is now freely available, the wheat wrappers continue to be popular.

Dong Que's authentic rice paper spring rolls were a lot fatter than ordinary cha gio.  While I find that many cha gio have quite indistinct fillings (it's impossible to tell the difference between the prawn, pork, or prawn and pork), the stubbiness of these specimens meant the quality of the filling was unmissable.  It was the classic blend of minced pork, black fungus, and bean thread noodles, and was very tasty.  The rice paper skin is pleasantly bubbly, but after wrapping in mint and lettuce and dipping in nuoc mam cham (seasoned fish sauce), I think their fatness did let them down somewhat as there wasn't enough crispy crunch.  The ultra-crispy, wheat-wrapped, cigarette-shaped cha gio is better for serious lettuce and dipping action.

Banh dap thit nuong (Steamed rice paper with grilled pork and rice cracker), $10

Well, our desire for crunch was well-fulfilled with this fabulous "Vietnamese taco".  Banh cuon or a very similar round rice noodle is topped with smoky grilled pork, peanuts, and spring onion, and sandwiched between seriously crunchy, thick, black sesame rice crackers.  This is served with mam nem, which is related to that most odiously odorous of dipping sauces, the fermented prawn mam tomMam nem is not nearly as strong, tasting like a thicker, richer nuoc mam cham.

Banh bot chien (Fried mixed flour cake with egg), $9

I first had this on Mei Ling's "Taste of Vietnam" tour, and it was the reason I wanted to go back to Dong Que.  It is so, so yummy - squares of rice flour cake (made very simply by steaming rice flour and water), fried, then bound with lightly beaten egg.  It's served with a sweetened, light soy sauce.  Fantastic, and the kids loved it.  I did realise later than this is just a simple snack, often eaten after school.  Yep, we were the weird Anglos sighing and moaning over the equivalent of a teenager's two-minute noodles!!

Goi du du bo kho (Dried beef with shredded green papaya coleslaw), $12

This coleslaw was absolutely divine!  Crunchy green papaya, perfectly shredded, mixed with lightly pickled carrot, crunchy roasted peanuts, and topped with beef jerky.  I'm not sure how the jerky was prepared, but it was chewy, rich, and tasty, yet somewhat tenderised by the tangy, light, soy-based dressing.  The prawn crackers are there for piling with salad then eating, somewhat like a Mexican tostada.

I'm curious to try more northern Vietnamese dishes here, particularly to see how their pho differs from say, Hung Vuong Saigon's.  I spied a couple eating bo la lot or beef in betel leaves, which came with rice paper sheets which they dipped in water to soften, before rolling their own DIY rice paper rolls.  They also had a seafood/vegie stirfry on crispy noodles, which they dressed with Chinese black vinegar.  Intriguing!

My only criticism is being forced to watch the racist, consumerist, keep-fear-alive shit that is Channel 7's Today Tonight, and also for my kids to have to be forced to watch it too (they have two huge TVs, one at the front and one at the back of the restaurant).  Now that way of looking at the world is a rut I never want to get into, let alone get stuck in.

Dong Que on Urbanspoon

Dong Que
102 Hopkins St, Footscray (map)
Phone: 9689 4392
Hours: 10am-10pm Mon-Wed and Fri-Sat (closed Thurs), 11am-10pm Sun


  1. Interesting that authentic spring rolls were made of rice paper, thanks for sharing. The banh bot chien and banh dap thit nuong looks really interesting too! I too should go out of my comfort zone, haha.

  2. Yes of all the eateries along that side of Hopkins street, I would imagine that this one would prove the most challenging for the casual western diner. We absolutely adore the Banh bot chien (which sort of reminds me of the Roti omelette at Tom Phat). And I can't wait to go back and try the Banh dap thit nuong!! (oh and they don't give you that "not sure if you like it" spiel)

  3. Wow, boy did I order the wrong dish the one time I went here!

    Cha ca! I haven't had that since Viet Nam. And I remember my cousin (well, my 2nd uncle, really) would take me to late night bot chien stalls in Sai Gon. At first I thought "Hrm, it's like radish cake without anything in it", but with the pickled radish on top, it's quite moreish.

    The cha gio (or I think the Northerners like to call them nem) look quite good. I wonder if there's anywhere on Hopkins St doing pho cuon? Sapa Hills maybe? That was one thing I think Ha Noi definitely had over Sai Gon. Well, that and stands that served gyros in a banh mi. Damn that stuff was good.

  4. Bryan - do it!!

    Temasek - oh, I HATE THAT - the "not sure if you like it". It pisses me off so bad. Yeah, sometimes I don't end up liking it, but let me make that call!

    Billy - warning, I don't think the cha ca is actually that good here. The fish was not that good the day I had it, but it could have just been that day. Pho cuon - OMG - WANT!! Definitely something I am going to search out in Footscray and surrounds!

  5. Hi Lauren,
    Interesting info about the spring rolls.
    You've reminded me of a dish I used to eat religiously when I'd go to a Vietnamese restaurant. I seriously get stuck on the same thing! About 15 years ago I used to go to a Footscray restaurant and would always eat the wheat gluten and cashews or wheat gluten with satay. The restaurant changed hands and it was no longer on the menu and I haven't seen it since and I despaired and haven't eaten much Vietnamese since. Have you seen this on the menu anywhere?

  6. Hi veggiegobbler! I haven't seen that on the menu exactly but I would try the two Buddhist vegetarian joints I know: Bo De Trai (next door to Dong Que) and White Lotus

    Failing that you could perhaps try to make your own with ingredients from Vincent Vegetarian Food which is in Barkly St, just over Geelong Rd

    Good luck - it sounds so yummy!

  7. Oh... have to check it out then. Love bo la lot!

  8. Haven't tried the banh bot chien but it seems similar to the Msia/Spore fried carrot cake (the rice flour cake has slivers of carrot) with juicy, crunchy bean sprouts, eggs, and fried in lard. The bigger the fire, the hotter the wok, the more aromatic the dish. Delicious.

  9. wow, there a few dishes I think I want go and check out, the fried rolls sound fantastic. TV's in cafes really drive me nuts, especially when they are turned up loud!

  10. Hi, have you thought of also adding in if places are wheelchair accessible. You often mention prams but prams can get up steps. Obviously it would be an unofficial endorsement but it would defintely help me in my situation if you were on the lookout.

  11. Anon, I would be delighted to do that!! Thank you for the suggestion.

  12. I love that style of rice paper for spring rolls.. much more traditional for Vietnamese and much more texture.

    By the way Lauren, I'm doing something for SBS Food portal, looking at the top 5 Pho restaurants in Melbourne.. any thoughts?

  13. Hi Thang and thanks for thinking of me!

    Hung Vuong in Footscray for sure - I think there are also branches in Richmond and Springvale. I recently rated the pho at Pho Tam, also in Footscray - lovely star anise scent.

    Billy of Half-Eaten ( is somewhat of a pho connoisseur and he gave the thumbs up to Pho Hien Vuong Paster in Barkly St, Footscray.

    I did go with #phohunters to Pho Chu The in Richmond and we were disappointed but others have had good experiences there in the past apparently.

    In the city, NOT Mekong, but you could try Pho Dzung on Russell St - been a while but seem to remember it being good - they also have a branch in Richmond I think.

    Definitely need to hit somewhere in Springvale but unfortunately I am no help in that area.

    @cloudcontrol, @berrytravels, @jeroxie and @katspat are involved in #phohunters so perhaps they could give you some tips too.

    I would love to meet up too if you end up coming to Melbourne!


I love getting your comments! They're what make blogging worthwhile. Unfortunately, the amount of spam I get is obscene and it is so tiresome to have to moderate every comment, so I have had to turn on annoying word verification. I'm sorry for the inconvenience, but please know how much I love you having your say!

Related Posts with Thumbnails
Related Posts with Thumbnails