Soul restorer. Reviver. Curer of all ills. A steaming bowl of Vietnamese pho is guaranteed to make everything better. There's something quite magical about this dish, an elixir that is more than just a bowl of beef noodle soup. It's hours of patient simmering of beef bones and secret spices to create a fragrant stock. It's the last-minute assembly of steaming broth splashed over glistening rice noodles and thin shavings of beef, brought to the table so fast that the soup is still clouded with steam.
Pho Tau Bay
There are plenty of pho noodle houses waving the flag in Marrickville and Bankstown, but Cabramatta is undoubtedly the heartland for Vietnamese food in Sydney. Currently the focus for the SBS documentary series Once Upon A Time in Cabramatta, this is a suburb which has endured a history of notoriety. Today it's a vibrant and thriving community, where hawking shopkeepers and local families jostle the footpath with curious Sydneysiders on food tours embracing the exotic and the delicious.
But there's only one question on everybody's lips. Where can you find Sydney's best pho? According to a recent online poll it's at Pho Tau Bay in Cabramatta, a family-run restaurant that has been running for over 25 years.
Pho dac biet $12.50 large
Pho Tau Bay offers the usual no-frills deal once you head inside: tissue boxes on every table, DIY chopsticks and a plastic basket filled with all the sauces and condiments you could possibly need.
Pho takes pride of place at the start of the menu, with seven variations to choose from. The standard pho starts at $9 for a small bowl, but we're feeling particularly ambitious and order the pho dac biet, or pho special -- and upgrade to the large size for good measure.
It arrives in a cavernous bowl that beggars belief. You could invite the neighbours over and enjoy a hot tub in this thing.
Pho dac biet
We pause to appreciate the smell of the soup, slightly herbal with notes of star anise. It's best to add a clump of bean sprouts so they can wilt a little in the soup, followed by torn up Vietnamese basil leaves and a squeeze of fresh lemon.
The soup is remarkably clear and not too oily. It's sweet and fragrant, with the heartiness of beef. Slippery rice noodles cascade mercilessly off our spoons, and the wafer thin slices of beef are tender. Buried at the bottom are the treasures of the pho special: bits of brisket, springy tendons, beef balls and ribbons of bible tripe. There's a lot of love in this bowl, and the giant bones we spy on our way to the bathroom (a perilous trek that forces you to literally weave through the tiny kitchen) are an impressive sight.
Banh canh cha chien $10
We mix things up with a serve of banh cuon cha chien, silky parcels of freshly steamed banh cuon rice noodles rolled up with seasoned pork mince and finely chopped up wood ear mushrooms. On top are fat slices of cha chien, a deep-fried Vietnamese deli meat made from pork.
Sprigs of fresh mint, sticks and cucumber and shredded lettuce add freshness and crunch. Douse the lot in the supplied saucer of nuoc cham or fish sauce dressing, and you've got the taste of summer with every mouthful.
Fried pork chop $4
And we love that you can order a whole deep-fried pork chop, listed under the snack section of the menu. Because sometimes when I'm feeling peckish, I know I could do with a pork chop or two.
Marinated in fish sauce and lemongrass, the pork chop is fried on the bone then cut into manageable pieces, garnished with a pile of sauteed green shallots.
Is this the home of Sydney's best pho? It's definitely up there. But wherever you end up eating in Cabramatta, your stomach is sure to live happily ever after.
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Pho Tau Bay
12/117 John Street, Cabramatta, Sydney
(shopfront entry on Hill Street)
Tel: +61 (02) 9726 4583
Monday and Wednesday to Friday 7.30am-6.30pm
Saturday and Sunday 7.30am-7.30pm
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Cabramatta food tour with Luke Nguyen
Cabramatta food tour with food bloggers
Cabramatta - Bau Truong (duck tongue and crispy sticky rice)
Cabramatta - Dong Ba (bun bo hue spicy noodle)
Cabramatta - Duc Thanh
Cabramatta - Phu Quoc (duck salad)
Cabramatta - Tan Viet (crispy skin chicken)
Cabramatta - Thanh Binh
Cabramatta - Tuong Lai (sugar cane prawns)
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1/10/2012 02:09:00 am