Thursday, July 14, 2011

Searching for the best Banh Mi in Perth in Girrawheen

Vietnamese cuisine has assumed a special place in the tummies of many Australians. Everyone that I have ever talked to about Vietnamese food has had nothing but praise for it. From the fresh rice paper rolls to the hearty pho and the holy banh mi (Vietnamese baguette) – mention any of these and people will start salivating in front of you…

Whilst you can order rice paper rolls at any Vietnamese restaurant and be assured that you will get a reasonable replication and there are always reliable pho joints around town for your pho fix, getting a decent banh mi is another matter.

My very first blog entry was about banh mi and where you could get the best banh mi in Perth. My family always bought our banh mi from Ben Thanh at the Mirrabooka Village Shopping Centre.

I got a few comments on that blog entry telling me about other places selling banh mi worth checking out in the Girrawheen area which is known for having a large Vietnamese community. Not that I can prove this in anyway statistically, nor have I conducted a survey of the people who live in the area. But I don’t think this is necessary because you can tell that a large number of Vietnamese people live in the area by the quality of its suburban Vietnamese restaurants (Kim’s Café and Noodle House and Pho Hynh to name a few), and by checking out the produce sold in the Asian supermarkets within the area. Not all Asian supermarkets are the same, each specializes in selling specific goods and what is demanded by its customers. Walk into any Asian supermarket in the Girrawheen area and you will find a larger selection of Vietnamese style sweet and savoury snacks near the counter than any Asian supermarket down William Street in Northbridge. The variety and freshness of the herbs available which is vital to a lot of Vietnamese dishes is also abundant in supply.

Girrawheen feels like Perth’s equivalent of Cabramatta in Sydney.

There is even a Vietnamese video shop and many Vietnamese butchers around the place.

Nguyen Phat Farmer Jacks is your everyday supermarket like IGA but the shopping aisle signs have Vietnamese translations. 

I have been journeying to Girrawheen over the past few weeks to find the best banh mi that Perth has to offer. I have checked out three places in Girrawheen, little shops that only sell banh mi, made fresh to order, all within five minutes drive from each other. The fact that these little establishments can sustain themselves by only selling banh mi shows that you don’t need to offer a variety of rolls to keep customers happy, do one thing really well and that’s all you need.

These three places were recommended to me by readers of my blog and are run by Vietnamese people so expect an occasional language barrier when you are being served depending on who’s working on the day – it’s all a part of the experience of consuming an authentic banh mi.

•    Banh Mi Nhu Mai
•    Tan Hiep Hung
•    Nuoc Mia Mien Tay

The best banh mi in my opinion is one that has a light toasted, crispy baguette with some tasty thinly sliced roast pork belly, it’s seasoned well (with condiments such as mayo, soy sauce, salt and pepper, pate etc.), and has a good balance of meat to pickled vegetables (generally carrot and daikon) and fresh herbs, especially a lot of coriander. Plus, some fresh cut chillies if you desire some heat too. It should feel light but be an explosion of rich beautiful flavours in your mouth with contrasting textures. Whilst banh mi may contain quite a few ingredients, as you bite into it, all the different elements come together as a whole and I think there is one word for this – it’s SYNERGY. I think this is why banh mi is so satisfying to eat.

Even though banh mi will generally be composed of the same ingredients no matter where you buy it, each place that sells banh mi will be slightly different. There will be differences in the bread roll, liver pate and sauces used, the balance of flavourings and ratio of meat to vegetables. Each will give you a different mouthfeel.

Banh Mi Nhu Mai

Banh Mi Nhu Mai is located at Shop 1: Newpark Shopping Centre, Templeton Crescent, Girrawheen WA 6084, next to the Commonwealth Bank. Open everyday 7am – 5pm.

I now have a new favourite banh mi place in Perth. I rate the banh mi at Banh Mi Nhu Mai slightly above Beh Thanh which has been my family’s favourite banh mi place since like forever. Overall, I think that Banh Mi Nhu Mai has the most synergy. Two things about Banh Mi Nhu Mai that stand out for me is that they have a larger selection of meats to choose from to stuff your banh mi with and I really like the baguette that they use, it’s light and crispy. While Beh Thanh offers the standard stuffing of thinly sliced roast pork belly and Vietnamese ham (goi lua), at Banh Mi Nhu Mai you can get a combination roll with includes the addition of Vietnamese head cheese, Vietnamese nem, as well as the roast pork belly and Vietnamese ham. I find the balance of vegetables to meat also better at Banh Mi Nhu Mai and they provide a generous amount of coriander. 

However, the one thing that Beh Thanh has over Banh Mi Nhu Mai is its pork liver pate. The banh mi at Banh Mi Nhu Mai didn’t have any pate but their own special red mince sauce mixture. When I asked the lady at the counter what was in the sauce…well after I repeated my question a few times and then pointed at the bowl of sauce, she didn’t speak much English but in the end she said two words to me “meat balls”. Ok, so I think I understood what she was trying to tell me, sometimes you can get banh mi with meatballs and I think that they have cooked this but instead of little meat balls they have kept the meat minced in a rich thick sauce which they spread a layer of in the roll. 

The mince sauce is delicious but pork liver pate adds another dimension of flavour to the roll so for lovers of offal, you will like the banh mi from Beh Thanh more. The pork liver pate from Beh Thanh is the best that I have tasted so far because it is rich in flavour and has a nice thick texture, I find the pate at other places more runny and lacking in the flavour department.  I would be pretty content with eating banh mi from either Banh Mi Nhu Mai or Beh Thanh but if I had to choose, I would go for Banh Mi Nhu Mai but only just!

You can read more about banh mi at Beh Thanh at my previous post and here are some recent photos.

Pate in Ben Thanh's banh mi.
Pate in Nuoc Mai Mien Tay's banh mi.

Nuoc Mia Mien Tay

Nuoc Mai Mien Tay is located at 7/3 Wade Court, Girrawheen WA 6084, outside Nguyen Phat Farmer Jacks. Open everyday 7:30am-8pm.

I quite like the banh mi at Nuoc Mai Mien Tay, the base seasonings are good and that is a balanced ratio of meat to vegetables, although the bread is more crusty and not as crispy and flaky as other banh mi places. It's also a bit different from the others as they add in a lashing of vibrant red sauce. The taste of the sauce reminds me of the marinade for Chinese BBQ pork (aka char siu) – sticky, savoury and sweet with hints of spice. The sauce makes the whole roll really flavoursome and succulent. 

 (the red sauce makes the whole roll look juicy)

Whilst I enjoy the taste of the red sauce, after repeated consumption of the banh mi I find that it can overshadow the flavours of the rest of the ingredients and could probably do without it. However, I think that people who really enjoy Chinese BBQ pork will like this banh mi and appreciate the addition of the sauce. I could probably ask for a banh mi without the red sauce, this is an option I have not tried yet but when you order banh mi at Nuoc Mai Mien Tay, this is how they serve it, so it’s a part of how they make their banh mi. Every banh mi place has their own little twist on the roll.

Tan Hiep Hung

Tan Hiep Hung is located at 2/70 Marangaroo Drive, Girrawheen WA 6084, next to a pizza shop. Open everyday 5am-5pm.

The banh mi at Tan Hiep Hung has been my least favourite place for banh mi. The downers for me are its bread which is not as nice as others I have had, I think its pate lacks flavour, the roast pork belly is sliced too thick and the ratio of vegetables to meat is not very balanced. The first time I bought a banh mi there, it had way too much carrot but was very generous with the mayo. 

(A bit too much carrot for my liking)
(thickly sliced pork and a lot of mayo)

I tried the banh mi at Tan Hiep Hung for a second time because I didn’t want to just base my judgement on one experience. But the second time that I tried it, the banh mi was overly salty as it contained too much soy sauce. Overall, my experience of banh mi at Tan Hiep Hung has not been as good as other places that I have tried. I don't think that enough care and attention is paid to the construction of the banh mi and balancing all the different elements. 

One bonus though is that they are open at 5am in the morning for people who have an early morning craving! 

So in summary, here are the banh mi places I have tried in Perth and a rough score, but any of the first three are great, I recommend trying them all.
  1. Banh Mi Nhu Mai (Shop 1: Newpark Shopping Centre, Templeton Crescent, Girrawheen WA 6084) Score – 9
  2. Beh Thanh (Shop 4/73 Honeywell, Bld, Mirrabooka Village Shopping Centre) Score – 8.7
  3. Tan Hiep Hung (2/70 Marangaroo Drive, Girrawheen WA 6084) Score 8
  4. Nuoc Mia Mien Tay (7/3 Wade Court, Girrawheen WA 6084) Score – 6.7
Everyone has different tastes and may appreciate different elements of the banh mi from the various places I have tried and have a different opinion on which place is the best, so I would be interested in hearing other peoples thoughts.

Are there any other places I should try?

For around 4-5 dollars you can get yourself a delicious and fulfilling banh mi. I find that a bargain. If you were to get yourself a decent/gourmet sandwich or roll at any café around town you would be setting yourself back an average of 7/8 dollars so put that extra few dollars towards transport costs and make the journey to Girrawheen, it will definitely be worth it.

I also recommend buying an extra banh mi to take home for the next day. The banh mi must be refrigerated but when you are about to eat it, take it out of the fridge for about 30 minutes to bring it to room temperature and then pop it in the oven/under the grill for a few minutes to crisp up the baguette.

 What is your favourite Banh Mi place in Perth?
Banh Mi Nhu Mai on Urbanspoon Tan Hiep Hung on Urbanspoon Nuoc Mia Mien Tay on Urbanspoon


  1. I never know that the Vietnamese community is that big now in Perth. I haven't heard a lot of the suburbs you are mentioning too. Man I've got a lot to catch up when I come to Perth in October.

    To a typical Indonesian, Banh Mi is just a sandwich. But after spending one whole year with a Vietnamese killer-cook family, I truly appreciate what you're coming from. I even incorporate Vietnamese meal as my weekly meal.

    As for Banh Mi, I don't know the exact name, but I love the duck banh mi. I haven't had many good ones tho.

  2. Excellent. I've copied down your list, I've made a fairly half hearted attempt at sampling Bahn Mi, usually settling for what I can get from Lucky on Brisbane St in Perth.

    Edward aka wino sapien

  3. Hey Pierre, I haven't had a duck banh mi before or seen it sold at any place around Perth. Sounds like it would be delicious though, I do love roast duck.

    Hi Ed, it's pretty easy to grab a banh mi at any Asian supermarket around town but I think Girrawheen is where you will get the best. Hope you enjoy your banh mi experiences and I will be interested to hear your thoughts next time our paths cross, maybe you can also recommend what wine I should drink with my banh mi :)

  4. I love banh mi!! I get myself one every time I go grocery shopping in a Vietnamese area. The ones you had looked fantastic, it's making me so hungry!

  5. I got introduced to Banh mi some years ago and think it's great! Though from what I've tried Melbourne seems to have better ones for the price :(

    I just wish there were good places closer to me.

  6. Hi Adrian. I haven't tried any banh mi in Melbourne so I can't compare but I agree with you that I wish there were good places closer to where I live. I don't live in Girrawheen so whenever I want a banh mi fix it's a 20 minute drive.

  7. One of my friends said to check out either Tan Hoa or Lucky in Northbridge. She said they may have the pre-made ones there which are delivered daily. Not sure which shop makes them though.

  8. I've had banh mi at the places that stock them around Northbridge but they are never as good as the ones that I get up at Girrawheen!

  9. Great post, I live in Northbridge but travel to Girrawheen semi-regularly for food (and, I'm a whitey!)

    Where in Northbridge has a bahn mi shop like the ones shown here in Girrawheen? Not pre-made, not just the bread, a proper place that will make to order?

  10. Thanks N. I live in Highgate and I travel to the Girrawheen/Mirrabooka area regularly too and sometimes it's just to buy specific ingredients that I need to cook with because I can't find them in the Asian supermarkets in the city!

    I find it weird that there is no banh mi shop in the city that sells banh mi made fresh to order because there would definitely be a demand for it and there are heaps of Vietnamese restaurants around the Northbridge area.

  11. How have I taken so long to see this? Good job Ai-ling. Perth food blog post of the damn year (and if something should usurp this, then hot damn indeed).

  12. Thanks Max, you are too kind. Don't know if this deserves post of the year but I enjoyed writing it.

    I also recently found out that there is a fresh banh mi place in the CBD at City Provisions on Hay Street. Photos on my FB page The banh mi is ok but I would still go to Girrawheen to get my banh mi fix.

  13. I think there is a bahn mi shop in Northbridge, or at least a cafe that offers it.

    Did you see any tofu varieties in your travels? The Footscray establishments in Melbourne do great salty sticky tofu but haven't been able to find this in Perth anywhere.

  14. Not Northbridge - Mt Lawley/Inglewood at Sunshine Lunch Bar Café on Beaufort Street, same block as Subway and Hanami.

  15. Hi Jess, I'll have to look around Northbridge to see if I can find this banh mi place. You can usually buy banh mi at Asian supermarkets around town.

    No, I didn't see any tofu varities at any of the places I have been to so far. I would love to try a banh mi with tofu. Don't know if there is enough demand for a tofu banh mi in Perth.

  16. Yes, I have heard about the banh mi at Sunshine Lunch Bar but I haven't checked it out yet. Will be next on my list :)

  17. OMG thank you soooooooo much i lived in Springvale, Melbourne for 2 years and fell in love with "bun bun" and have been craving it ever since i moved back to Perth but had no idea where ot find it!! Do any of these places sell versions with hot meat eg, hot lemon grass chicken or bbq pork, the ones in Melbourne mainly have that with hot hoi sin sauce and fried onions too nom nom nom

  18. Hello, I have not seen a banh mi place sell a version with lemongrass chicken but if you love bbq pork I think that your best choice would be Banh Mi Nhu Mai at the Newpark Shopping Centre :)

  19. It's surprising how similar ethnic enclaves in the US and Australia look. If you had told me that the photos above were taken in San Jose or South Philadelphia, I would have believed it!

  20. @plaidbag - I agree, when a large community of people settle somewhere they really make it their own.

  21. I had one from an "under new management" place called "delicious meals" today for lunch. $6 at 284 Hay Street Subiaco

  22. Thanks David. I will check it out soon!

  23. My partner and I used to live in Cabramatta before relocating to WA. We always went shopping for our veg, meat and fish in Cabra because it was always so fresh and extremely reasonably priced. She got me hooked on what she called "pork rolls" and the sago pearl drinks and we frequented a little banh mi place in Cabra and also a restaurant in Canley Heights and loved to get the sago pearl drinks from a shop nearby. When we moved to WA, we didn't know which to move into, but as she was working in Balcatta, we looked for suburbs nearby and lucked into Girrawheen. Imagine our joy when we found a place that did the pork rolls and sago drinks!! People don't seem to have many positive things to say about Girrawheen, but we recently bought a house not far from the Farmer Jacks complex and frequent the ?Vietnamese? restaurant that faces out onto Girrawheen Road. Thanks to all that have contributed stories about their pork roll experiences! ;)

    1. Eh, every suburb has their good and bad, even Cabra back in the dark days. This is not the USA after all. People generally don't have good things to say about Balga either but I've had no problems. I used to live in Abbotsford where I got my fix and still think they have both the cheapest and best banh mi in Australia. But you're lucky to live near that particular Farmer Jacks; best pan-asian and cheap F&V selection around.

      Btw, the Perth CBD/inner-suburbs banh mi sucks. The deli on Hay Street opposite the Post Office and near Shafto Lane is expensive ($6-7), not available long enough in the day and the bread is cold and sucky. The vietnamese bakery's banh mi next door to Boffins Bookshop on Hay Street are pre-made, expensive ($5), again not available all day, no pâté and have the wrong kind of chilli (not bird's eye). They are the wrong kind of shape too and again are refrigerated. The handful of vietnamese bakeries in Perth/Northbridge (and virtually every blue collar suburb mall) that make shitty meat pies and ham/cheese sandwiches are crazy not to offer Banh Mi or at least baguette's stuffed with BBQ pork meat.

      The only real alternative is Sunshine Bakery. Big selection of aussie and viet fare (pho soup, noodles, rolls) but the banh mi is hit and miss. They're generally $6 but quite big. However, the bread is usually cold (as you see, my main quibble as you lose the crunch) and the carrots are not pickled. There's a general lack of marg/butter and pâté too.

      Girra for the win!

    2. The one at city provisions put your top 4 to shame. Just wasted a drive to girraween

  24. Has anyone tried the meatball version at City Provisions? You will be breathing and sweating onion for the rest of the day, but it is still the best banh mi (albeit not pork) that I have had in Perth.

    There is another banh minh place in the same shopping complex as Tan Hiep. Has anyone been there?

    1. Yeh i agree the meatball at city provisions is magnificient