116 Hopkins St
Footscray VIC 03011
+61 3 9689 7296
Working on William Street means that it’s often very difficult to find a café that sells a decent sandwich for less than $9. Hell, forget about decent sandwich – how about a sandwich, no matter how crappy, for nine friggin’ dollars?! If you’re lucky enough to be located next to EARL Canteen, you can score yourself a scrumptious pork belly sandwich for $15 (not cheap by all means, but that’s what you have to fork out for quality…). And if you’re down to your last $4 until pay day, then you may find a prepackaged ham and cheese sandwich with a “Buy me! I’m only $4” sticker in the fridge of your local 7-11 that’s about to go off. That’s only if you’re lucky. Those of you who are fortunate enough to work in a Vietnamese-centric suburb such as Richmond and Footscray, however, may be tinkering silently to yourselves. And understandably so. You’re the lucky folk who can walk into a Vietnamese bakery, grab yourself a fresh Vietnamese pork roll and still leave the premises with change for $4.
And to those of you who work within walking distance of Nhu Lan, one of the most popular Vietnamese bakeries in Footscray: Curse you, I say, CURSE. YOU. Home to what’s got to be the best Vietnamese pork roll (bánh mì) in Melbourne, Nhu Lan does a roaring trade especially on weekends when Saturday morning shoppers come by for their fix. On Saturdays, the queue snakes out of the door and onto Hopkins Street which is an indication of how popular these rolls are. Once you set your foot into the shop, however, all manners are literally left out of the door as mothers, tradies, pretty young things and bogans aggressively push and shove each other to the front of the counter in order to get served. At Nhu Lan, the ‘please wait patiently for your turn’ rule does NOT apply so if you’re not as equally aggressive as the 5’1 stiletto-ed Vietnamese lady who is wearing foundation that’s two shades lighter than her normal skin, then be prepared to wait a very, very long time.
Thankfully, the time it takes for you to place your order, watch it get prepared and pay for it is much quicker than the time it took to wait to be served. At Nhu Lan, the neat procession of ladies effortlessly – and almost seductively – cut, slather, shove, arrange and wrap with as much fluidity as a can-can dancer from Moulin Rouge, which is rather fitting given that the Vietnamese learnt how to make bread from the French. From traditional fillings such as good ol’ mixed ham to BBQ pork to a tofu roll, all bases are covered for only $3.80 (or $3.50 if you want a salad roll). They even offer baby-sized rolls for those who literally just want a small bite to eat on their way to Footscray market.
They say that the bread is what makes a good bánh mì and indeed, the bread at Nhu Lan can only be described as perfection. Delightfully crunchy on the outside and soft (and warm) as freshly-spun fairy floss on the inside, it’s the perfect vessel for a mighty fine sandwich. And although the bread at Nhu Lan is fantastic, I’d like to think that all the other elements play an equally important role in making the bánh mì taste so good. For example, my usual mixed ham roll (Bánh Mì Thịt Nguội) consists of an even spread of butter and fresh pâté which is then heaped with a proportionate ratio of three different types of hams and fresh salad ingredients. The saltiness of the ham and the fish sauce (and I love LOTS of it) is contrasted nicely with the slightly tangy pickled carrots and daikons, fresh cucumbers, one spring of spring onion and lots of lovely coriander. Red chillies optional.
Perfection for less than $4.
Although I normally stick to the mixed ham roll, I occasionally go for the salad roll when I feel like going vego for the day. This version omits the pâté, while keeping the butter, and goes slightly heavier on the vegies with a sprinkling of roasted peanuts and fried shallots for a bit of texture. Fish sauce is usually offered to those who order the salad roll (which I, of course, accept) though the roll is tasty enough without it. It’s a simple and light meal that’ll get you through the afternoon despite the absence of meat in it. I still prefer the mixed ham one though, heh.
While I am a lover of decadent sandwiches from EARL and similar places, I am just as enamoured by the simple freshness of a humble Nhu Lan pork roll that only costs a fraction of a modded-up sandwich in the city. Now if only the guys at Nhu Lan would open up a branch in the city, preferably next to Flagstaff station, thanks.