The Hanson Road strip is the heart of Adelaide’s Vietnamese community, so it makes sense that it boasts the best traditional Vietnamese food in the state. But Hanson Road wasn’t always home to the Vietnamese.
Local Vietnamese restaurant owner of Mai Kitchen, Vinh De Giang, arrived in Adelaide from a Malaysian refugee camp in 1980. “When we first came to Adelaide, there was a place called Pennington [Migrant] Hostel – that was the Vietnamese community,” Giang says. At that time, European refugees had settled Hanson Road after the Second World War and it was known as a low socio-economic area.
The Hanson Road area became the epicenter of the Vietnamese community after successive waves of post-Vietnam War immigration. “Vietnamese people didn’t speak much English so we stayed near that house where we came,” Giang says. In most cases, the Vietnamese arrived with hardly any possessions or money, only able to afford to rent along Hanson Road. “We bought houses and businesses and turned it into how Hanson Road is now with Vietnamese shops and restaurants,” Giang says.
Alongside Mai Kitchen are many other Vietnamese restaurants, such as Hoang Gia Quan and Pho Ba Ria 2 that make the strip the best area for Vietnamese food in Adelaide. Traditional Vietnamese meals, such as phở (noodle soup) and bánh mì (Vietnamese rolls), have now become popular street food choices for Australians. But the area has much more to offer of Vietnamese culture and cuisine.
Just a two-minute drive from Hanson road resides the Giang family restaurant, Mai Kitchen. The restaurant is known throughout the community for their home-style Vietnamese cooking.
“Our family is a big family,” Giang says. “My wife is used to cooking for a big family and bringing family together. We want to share our culture and bring people together.”
Giang’s son Dan says Mai Kitchen serves authentic Vietnamese food that he and his siblings grew up with. “When I was younger and we went out to Vietnamese restaurants, they just wouldn’t make it how mum did at home,” he says. “For example, Vietnamese sweet and sour soup, they don’t have that in restaurants generally but it’s something we do here,” Dan says. “And that’s really what we’ve tried to focus on.”
“I think a lot of people have tried to change to Australian or make it more modern but there’s so much traditional food that you don’t need to create new things,” he says. “We’re about sharing the family culture.”
A Guide to the Hanson Road Area’s Authentic Vietnamese
Cà phê đá (Vietnamese Iced Coffee) and Chè Ba Màu (Three Colour Bean Dessert)
Vietnamese Iced Coffee
Vietnamese iced coffee is made with a small metal drip filter, using medium to coarse ground dark roast coffee. Instead of milk, it uses condensed milk and the two are combined into an ice filled glass. It’s a very sweet drink but it still has that strong coffee taste to it.
Find the best at: Mai Kitchen, Hoang Gia Quan
Three Colour Bean Dessert
The three colour bean dessert is made up of coconut milk, sugar, crushed ice, red kidney beans, yellow mung beans and green jelly strips. This can be either a drink or a dessert. This is also a sweet drink and the coconut makes it creamy.
Find the best at: Khang’s Noodles, Hoang Gia Quan
Nem rán (Ha Noi style spring rolls)
Ha Noi Style Spring Rolls
Ha Noi style spring rolls are a healthy alternative to traditional spring rolls, made instead from rice paper. They’re served with pickled carrots, lettuce, mixed herbs and dipping sauce. The traditional Vietnamese way of eating this dish is by using a lettuce leaf to wrap up a spring roll, some pickled carrots and herbs.
Find the best at: Mai Kitchen
Bánh Xèo (Vietnamese pancake) with pork and prawns
Dan says bánh xèo, which means sizzling pancake, was one of his favourite dishes of his mum’s growing up. The dish is a crepe-like pancake made with rice flour, coconut milk, and turmeric, which creates a beautiful golden yellow hue. It’s served with bean sprouts and herbs, with filling options including: tofu, pork and prawns, and chicken. It’s best enjoyed straight from the pan and wrapped up in lettuce leaves.
Find the best at: Mai Kitchen
Broken Combination Rice (with mock meat)
Broken Combination Rice
This dish was invented from Vietnamese rice farmers unable to sell their broken grains, which they would then eat themselves. By using mock meat, Giang’s son Dan says it follows their religion. “Our family is Buddhist, it’s something we practice,” Giang’s son says. “Eating mock meat is sustainable. And a lot of flavours come from spices and herbs.” However there are many other options including beef and chicken. The dish is served with rice, pickled vegetables and fresh cucumber.
Find the best at: Mai Kitchen (mock meat), Hoang Gia Quan (with egg), Khang’s Noodles
Phở Bò (beef noodle soup)
Phở is a very popular Vietnamese dish but few restaurants in Adelaide make it to a traditional style. There are many different types of phở, the most common are chicken, rare beef and combination beef. The key to a traditional phở is the clearness of the broth. The dish is perfect in winter, packed with flavours and served with a hot chilli dipping sauce. Phở is a combination of rice noodles, fresh herbs, onions and bean sprouts in a slow cooked beef broth.
Find the best at: Pho Ba Ria 2, Mai Kitchen, Hoang Gia Quan
1-5/34 Wright St, Ferryden Park
(08) 7226 6591
183b Hanson Road, Athol Park
(08) 7073 9678
Pho Ba Ria 2
54 Hanson Rd, Woodville Gardens
(08) 8244 5522
Hoang Gia Quan
16 Hanson Road, Woodville Gardens
(08) 8345 5358
2 Arndale Street, Kilkenny
(08) 8244 6694