The competition for authentic street food is getting hotter in Braddon with the arrival of a brand new, bright yellow Vietnamese food truck.
Tien Nguyen came to Canberra as an international student, but a casual job in his mate’s food truck changed his career trajectory. Serving dishes from home at ‘What the Pho?’ in Braddon allowed him to see first-hand how well-loved Vietnamese food is in Australia.
“Living and working here, we feel like we’ve blended with Australian culture,” he told Region.
“Vietnamese food is a part of the cuisine in Australia.”
In 2019, Tien and his partner Phuong Pham took over Saigon Asian Grocery in Dickson. This experience allowed him to connect with many other Vietnamese restaurateurs and chefs, get a feel for what customers wanted, and access specialty Vietnamese ingredients.
Anh Nguyen (no relation; Nguyen is by far the most common surname in Vietnam) was a chef at Bistro Nguyen until the pandemic left him without work. He and Tien were soccer teammates and good friends, so Tien offered him a job at the grocery store.
Tien realised that he had the perfect team for another Braddon food truck, and Little Phat Rolls was born, this time serving a different Vietnamese classic, banh mi. Of course, opening a new business necessitates a lot of market research, so they set out to visit every banh mi store in Canberra!
They realised that many places focussed on serving rolls quickly and skipped the step of warming the bread.
“Our most important thing is to make the banh mi hot and crispy. But that sacrifices some speed,” Tien explained.
“Other shops take just 10 or 30 seconds to make it. For us, it’s a couple of minutes. But we believe when the customer receives the banh mi hot and crispy, they’ll say it’s worth it.”
As well as making the roll extra crispy, warming the banh mi releases the aromas and flavours of the pâté, a vital element of the dish. Another difference at Little Phat Rolls is the wide range of options for vegan customers.
Tien is vegetarian and noticed that he had lots of vegan customers at his grocery store who came in to buy vegan ‘meats’. They’ve put these options on the menu and also went one step further to create their own mushroom sauce, which acts as a vegan-friendly pâté. Tien says that their homemade sauces and mix of fresh herbs set them apart from others.
Chef Anh agreed: “We really focus on the sauces. That’s our secret weapon!”
Tien’s instincts were right: you can taste the difference when you have a warm banh mi. The flavours are amplified with fresh, cold pickles contrasting the warm grilled meats. The different filling options are drawn from regional specialties.
Tien notes that the tomato and sardine filling is common in central Vietnam, and the many vegan options are definitely worth trying, even for meat eaters!
Perch on a wooden stool and grab yourself a sweet lemon iced tea or Vietnamese coffee to complete the authentic experience. Don’t mind the crumbs, this is street food!
Tien says: “If you ever come to Vietnam, you would never go to a restaurant to order a banh mi. Banh mi and sticky rice are sold solely on the street.”
The Little Phat Rolls truck is regularly parked in Braddon, and the team is looking to purchase a second food truck to take to markets and events.
“We want to take our food to the people.”
Little Phat Rolls is at Wave Carwash, 17 Lonsdale Street, Braddon, from 10 am Tuesday to Sunday, and also for dinner on Thursday to Saturday.