Friday, June 3, 2011

Vegetarian Phở Hunters, Rejoice!

With the cold weather in Melbourne making me reminiscent about my time in Southeast Asia last year, I was really craving some Vietnamese food. The problem was that vegetarian/vegan ph is not easily found amongst the countless Vietnamese shops around Footscray (my local mini-Asia) and Richmond (the closest/most accessible east-side version of Footscray). Experiencing a motivating craving and being the relentless researcher that I am, I was determined to finally get the job done. I read review after review of noodle restaurants until I found one that seemed suitable and had a good amount of vegetarian options- Thanh Nga Nine, 160 Victoria St, Richmond.

After a short tram ride from the city, T & I arrived there a bit earlier than expected and while the staff was still eating their own dinner (oops!). We ordered a couple drinks and had a look through the menu, slightly overwhelmed by how many items were on it! While there is a dedicated vegetarian section, there are also other vegetarian dishes scattered throughout the regular, gigantic menu. Luckily the staff member serving us was helpful and explained what the specialties were and what we could eat. We ordered the vegetarian version of the "Vietnamese Pancakes" (see below) as a starter, a bowl of vegetarian ph for me as a main, and Salt & Pepper Eggplant for T as a main.

The "Vietnamese Pancakes" came out first, and I'm using quotes because I've never seen anything like these before and they didn't resemble what my American mind conjures up when I think "pancake". They were crispy rice flour based half-shells filled with a custardy mung bean paste, smooth coconut cream, crispy fried onions (I think) and a few other ingredients I can't remember, and were served with amazing dipping sauces (one was coconut based and the other chili based) that allowed you to tailor each pancake to your particular preference. These ended up to be a perfect mix of crispy, soft, sweet, salty, and hot for me. I imagine they would be a love-it-or-hate-it dish for most people as the texture combination and taste are quite foreign to Westerners! Luckily I loved them, even though they were a wee bit more oily than I usually like my food to be.

When I was presented with the platter of bean sprouts and lime that signified the impending arrival of my Phở, it was a similar anticipatory feeling to when the house lights go down in a venue just before the band you've been waiting to see is about to play. Nerdy and excited? Yes. Warranted? Also yes. I had been wanting to eat vegetarian phở for years, and my time had finally arrived. Although I don't have many previous experiences with vegetarian phở in Melbourne, I thought my soup was great! It really hit the spot on a cold and grey wintery evening. There were a few different types of mock meats in there, more noodles than I could probably eat in 24 hours, and a deliciously spiced broth.

T's salt and pepper eggplant was also amazing- a great juxtaposition of crispy batter with silky eggplant, garnished with spicy and fresh chillies and herbs. No complaints there!

Overall, we both enjoyed ourselves and will have a hard time deciding whether to order the same things because they were great, or new things just to try them!

Pros: huge portions, good variety for vegetarians, helpful staff, interesting and delicious dishes, affordably priced.
Cons: the hunt for vegetarian dishes littered throughout the menu in non-vegetarian designated areas is a bit exhausting, and some dishes are slightly too oily for my liking, but that is extremely subjective.

Thanh Nga Nine
160 Victoria St, Richmond
Thanh Nga Nine on Urbanspoon

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