Phounguen Sticky, sweet, salty and sour – it's like a candy shop for carnivores
If you’ve ever wondered what beef candy would taste like, quit daydreaming. Phuonguen has beaten you to it. Their Lao dried beef or sin haeng ($10) – beef slices marinated in spices and then dried to a jerky – is deep fried so all the fatty bits get extra crispy before being tossed in a sticky syrup. Laos usually eat this with rice as part of a meal. We reckon you BYO and have ‘em with beer.
Phounguen is camped on the other side of Cabramatta station, away from the main strip of restaurants. Things are quieter on this side, but that means parking is easier too. They do a mix of Lao and Thai dishes here – from green curry to pad thai to chicken feet salad. A photo menu makes ordering a cinch.
The classic Lao pork sausage ($10) delivers on all fronts: zingy with lemongrass, kaffir lime and chilli, lusciously juicy and cooked so there’s a slight crisp to the skin. But what they’re really known for here is the ox tongue ($10). Forget everything you know. This oft-maligned offal is marinated and barbecued into some kind of unheard-of tender, smoky flavour punch.
The décor is pretty basic but who cares when most dishes are ten bucks a pop? Join the rubble of families, locals and uni students and hoe into Lao-style fried rice ($10), a textural bonanza of crunchy rice bits mixed with hot pink pickled pork, scrambled egg, shallots, peanut and shredded coconut.
Get your hands on a pile of deep fried marinated quail ($13/$17), dunking each piece in a lemon juice and pepper dipping sauce. Go hard with the raw minced beef salad ($10), like a fish sauce version of steak tartare with bonus bible tripe. They do a treasure hunt of tripe in the soups too. The beef ball soup ($11) comes with a clear sweet stock, or get the tom yum beef combination ($11) for a spicy kick.
Green papaya salad ($10) is a choose-your-own-adventure dilemma. Thai-style for bright and sweet? Or Lao-style, which is down and dirty with funky, salty fermented crab? You choose.
148 Cabramatta Rd East
|Opening hours:||Daily noon-9.30pm|