Ionce rode a truck which was carrying a cement hopper from Bangkok to Hat Yai. We stopped en route for a meal in a village surrounded by the jungle.
The local restaurant was a barn of a place with a thatched roof and no walls, and we sat at long wooden benches packed in like sardines with the locals and ate tom yam kung - a rich peasant broth packed with prawns, lemon grass, fresh coriander, onions, chilli and nam pla. It cost all of 50 cents and was one of the most memorable meals I've ever had.
I was reminded of this when we walked into Mama Tran, even though it doesn't have a thatched roof, doesn't serve Thai food, and has four walls. It is a barn of a place, though, with long wooden benches, which appear to be a mix of IKEA and Bunnings outdoor furniture. It was packed and it does serve traditional, hearty Vietnamese fare prepared by family members under mum's supervision, and the family photos adorn the wall.
Like my jungle Thai restaurant, this is an order-at- the-counter kind of place, and you help yourself to just about everything else - glassware, cutlery, condiments, drinks, and free green tea. A buzzer you are given goes off when your meal is ready, and you don't have to wait long.
The restaurant caters mainly to the lunchtime office crowd at the top of the Terrace when it can be pretty hectic, and on Thursday and Friday nights the Arena crowd keep it busy.
This is Vietnamese "fast food" with a minimalist menu. There are 17 mains comprising five pho dishes, two dry noodles, seven noodle salads, and two rice dishes, none of which is more than $14.50. They also do $8 baguettes - a legacy of French colonialism - with either ham or chicken plus mayo, cucumber, pickled radish, carrot and fresh coriander.
Once we had found our bearings, I ordered dry egg noodles with braised pork, pork mince and prawn ($13.50), a substantial dish liberally laced with the aforementioned pork and prawns, plus bean sprouts and coriander, with the noodles finished off with a muscular soy-based sauce. The beloved ordered a noodle salad - rice vermicelli with grilled pork and spring rolls including cabbage, carrot, bean sprouts, cucumber, mint and onion ($12.50). She complained that it was cold.
"Yes, dearest, it's a salad." I thought it was fine. The spring rolls came in a takeaway paper bag, and were hot, crisp, filled with goodies, and mercifully greaseless. Not bad, as spring rolls go. We also ordered fresh prawn rice-paper rolls ($8.50) which were as good as some of the best around town, and the peanut sauce better than most.
There are no desserts on the menu, which is fine by me as I'm not a fan of Asian sweets but I had espied a solitary takeaway container of black sticky rice with coconut cream ($3.60), which I am rather partial to.
The beloved prefers hers the traditional Burmese way, with salt, so I got to eat it all to myself - and very good it was too.
- Mama Tran *
- Address * Shop 6, 36 at 40 Milligan Street, Perth
- Phone * 9481 6688
- Other * BYO (no corkage)
- Open * Monday-Friday 9.30am-2.30pm; Thursday-Friday 5.30pm-9pm
- The buzz * I'm a sucker for peasant food: traditional dishes that people still desire even when they are wealthy enough to be no longer peasants - pot-au-feu, minestrone, lampredotto, pea and ham soup, pho . . . So despite the lack of luxury, I like this kind of restaurant. And even a penurious peasant could afford it. My beloved, however, is more choosy. I should know, I have to cook for her.