Sydney might be awash with Vietnamese restaurants but finding traditional dishes from Hanoi, in the country’s north, is more difficult. That’s where newly opened Mam Mam in Bankstown comes in. This stylish arcade café is already a hit with locals. Don’t know your bun cha from your bun nam? Don’t worry, the slick full-page menu photos will eliminate any guesswork.
If you’re going to order anything from the menu, make it the bún chả ($13), a Hanoi classic of grilled pork meatballs and pork slices with vermicelli noodles and salad. You can even watch your pork sizzle on the barbecue through the front window. Pick up your jaw from the ground when your feast arrives, spread out on a gigantic woven platter. Place a little bit of everything in your bowl, drench it with the salty sweet soup and savour the smoky char of pork against soft noodles, crunchy pickled vegetables and fresh herbs.
Want to level up? Try the bún đậu mắm tôm ($13), a similar bún chả set-up that substitutes the grilled pork with poached pork slices, fried tofu puffs and pork intestines. The accompanying sauce made from fermented shrimp paste packs a fishy punch, in the best possible way. You’ve been warned.
Bún mắm ($14.50) is a spicy and sour soup holding a jackpot of plump prawns, tender squid, pork belly and thick chewy noodles. Transfer the side plate of shredded banana flower, cabbage and bean sprouts into the soup and then head on down to flavour town. There’s a key ingredient behind the soup’s addictively pungent umami earthiness: fermented fish paste. Don’t be afraid. It’s just an echo versus a punch in the face but it’s definitely there.
Have we saved the best until last? You bet. You need an order of the nem rán – that’s the North Vietnamese version of spring rolls – wrapped up in rice paper sheets (the same ones used for your favourite rice paper rolls) and deep-fried until golden. They’re super crunchy with just a hint of chewiness. Order them as an entrée ($7) and wrap them up in lettuce with pickles or have them as a side to vermicelli noodles and herbs ($13).