Pho Viet (Cairns, QLD)

Orchid Plaza
24 Shields Street
Cairns QLD 4870
no phone

Tonight, I’ve reverted to writing about Queensland (particularly Cairns)… again. ‘What?’ I hear you say, ‘I thought you were done with that shit.’ Well, no. I’ve only covered about 1.5 days worth of eating, with a couple more days to go. So same deal, here. Those who aren’t booking trips to FNQ should look away for the next two weeks or so; those who are interested in hearing about Cairns-style Vietnamese cuisine, crocodile pies and Japanese-French fusion food, stay tuned!

I’ve been eating a lot of Vietnamese food lately so it seems fitting that this post will be about a Vietnamese kiosk, Pho Viet, Marty and I stumbled across while taking a detour from some place (probably Woolies) to some place (probably our hotel). In a sterile shopping plaza that contained as much life as a square mile of Utahan desert, we saw orange! We saw Vietnamese writing! And we saw photos of noodle soups! Wah!

It was an awkward time of day (4pm) and neither of us were dying of hunger. But to resist not sampling Cairn’s finest – and probably only – source of Vietnamese food? That would be a foodie sin, especially for us Vietnamese-food-o-philes (is that a word? No? Well, I just made it one, heh). We originally decided to split a bánh mì thịt (Vietnamese pork roll) but at the last minute, Marty decided to also order a bowl of bún bò Huế (lemongrass beef noodle soup).

This is what a $4.90 bánh mì looks like. In Footscray, you’re likely to be knifed in the throat for charging that much for a pork roll but hey, this is Cairns and we knew we had to assess this place accordingly. Plus, it was served cut-up on a plate, and with a SMILE from the owner too. You wouldn’t get THAT in Foots-crazy!

The first thing we noticed was the bread: it wasn’t your typically awesome crusty-on-the-outside-fluffy-on-the-inside Vietnamese bakery-type bread roll. Rather, the texture was halfway between that of a sourdough loaf and a stale baguette from Woolies. They say that the bread is what makes or breaks a bánh mì and nowhere have I seen a finer example than here.

The bread was hard, inside and outside, and obviously stale. Things were already off to a bad start. As for the filling? It was alright, but the cold cuts of pork meat tasted blander than anything I’ve had on Hopkins Street, and so did the pâté. While I could understand that it would not be cost-effective for the owners to set up a separate bakery just for making bánh mì, I would have thought that a bit more effort would have gone into the filling.

In contrast, the bún bò Huế ($10.90) was a LOT better. In fact, I will go so far to say that it was surprisingly good and jam-packed with flavour; it was probably one of the more flavoursome BBHs I’ve had. They didn’t skimp on the slices of pork, beef, noodles, the unfortunate blob of pig’s blood (something that both Marty and I just can’t eat) and the lemongrass. Oh yes, they were VERY liberal with the lemongrass – something which a lot of restaurants fail to do, which is surprising because, uh, lemongrass IS a key ingredient in bún bò Huế. While it wasn’t Dong Ba quality, it was nevertheless still amazingly full of flavour with the right amount of spiciness. Marty even went on to say that it was the best bowl of BBH he’s ever had in Queensland (not that that’s saying much though). We didn’t even blink at the slightly-higher-than-average price they charged for the bowl, too.

Despite the nasty tropical North Queensland wet season weather outside, our BBH went down a real treat. I guess this was also due, in part, to the fact that we had a ‘no frills’ breakfast and lunch onboard the vessel that took us to out to the reef. Thus, can you imagine how GOOD the BBH would have tasted after a day trying not to get seasick, spitting out saltwater, eating cut-up fruits and sandwiches, scuba-diving and snorkelling? OH HELL YEAH!

Although by no means a Cairns institution, Pho Viet would definitely be a place I would go to the next time I’m in Cairns and have a craving for a steaming bowl of bún bò Huế. Now, if the Vietnamese place near Martin’s place actually start making half-decent Vietnamese noodle soups (apparently they don’t), then we’ll be in business!

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  1. Nothing could be worse than stale and hard bread 🙁 it really turns me off! Sighh but glad you got some good BBH after going out to the reef ~ I know that feeling of just waiting to eat something warm and comforting after a long day at sea 😀 my dad use to be a captian of some cargo ship back in the day… i dunno how he lives on actual ship for 6 to 9 months LOL

  2. I went to Footscray last night and was so close to going to Dong Ba then BF was like “nooo it’s empty” so we walked off. I still wonder what could’ve been…. we ended up eating pho at Hung Vuong… disappointing pho. The meat wasn’t great :/ but watching the waiter sliding around the restaurant was s hoot!

  3. I could even see from the photo that the bread looks stale! But the noodles look good!

    I can’t believe you could still eat a spicy noodle soup in the hot weather… but then again, it would be just like in Vietnam!

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