On a domestic street by the station, outside Springvale’s commercial hub, lies Nam Giao. It is quiet compared to the chaos of grocery-purchasing bodies a few streets across. I prefer being part of a crowd when eating, coming here because of a recommendation that the bún bò huế is the best in the area.
I had eaten phở the night before – a Northern Vietnamese soup more commonly eaten in Melbourne – and wanted something else. This is only the second occasion I’ve had bún bò huế ($8.00), which originates in the central region of the country, a soup of a completely different style. The broth is tangy, prepared with lemongrass, which with chilli, tickles at the throat – water and plenty tissues are recommended. Floating in the liquid, specks of fiery red skimming the surface, are slices of beef and thick rice vermicelli. Served with the soup, the greens were not what one has come to expect. More mint was really needed and the shredded lettuce didn’t match fresh bean-shoots. Quite shamefully, this bowl got the better of me, not being able to finish my broth. This might be because we ordered a side of gỏi cuốn ($7.00), Vietnamese spring rolls, similar to any other one can get in Melbourne.
Nam Giao is quite an unappealing building of pale pink. Inside is a strange atmosphere, a sluggish feeling in the air. Dark wood and bamboo coupled with odd ornaments on the wall give it a Hawaiian look, if that is possible. This is not a place for hygiene freaks – the door in the bathroom doesn’t close, chopstick eating ends are dusty and bowls of food are left on tables long after the customers are gone. Service was not much faster than the longer than average time it took to receive our meals. The gỏi cuốn actually took longer to emerge, suggesting that if we hadn’t mentioned it a second time, it wouldn’t have come at all.
The excellent value – it being the cheapest Vietnamese soup I’ve had – and fairly good soup is why people come to Nam Giao. It is sleepy and away from the hustle, but depending on your mood, that might be a positive aspect.
4 Lightwood Rd, Springvale
(03) 9548 2232