Springvale is a hugely diverse neighbourhood – more than 69 per cent of residents were born overseas. Around 80 per cent of people speak a language other than English. Home to a large Vietnamese community, the suburb is brimming with bakeries and patisseries; delis, supermarkets, grocers, cafes; and restaurants. In recent years, a Cambodian influence has taken root with that culture’s distinctive salted-fish congee and lemongrass soup.
Angie Chong, who hosts cooking workshops and local food tours, first started visiting Springvale in the early ’70s when her mother, Elizabeth, was conducting eating tours of the area. “There was a really strong sense it was an Asian community. I felt comfortable surrounded by the food,” she says. “It was really exciting in those days. But it really was just Springvale Road, a smattering of shops and one or two supermarkets.”
Bun Bun Bakery is one of those Springvale stalwarts. Owner Tuong “Terry” Chiem has served bar-setting bánh mì for the past 18 years. The crusty loaves are baked fresh out back, and are crammed with traditional fillings such as house-made pate; long, green spring-onion shoots; and crisp roast pork. They also include less-familiar ingredients, such as lemongrass-roasted chicken, steamed pork and meatballs.
At Golden Lakes Cakes and Roast, the customary yum-cha experience is distilled into a takeaway outlet where tender roast pork, succulent char siu pork and whole roast ducks are cooked on-site. There are cabinets filled with baked goods: enormous, cloud-like bao filled with barbeque pork, pork mince, Chinese sausage, char siu and quail eggs; delicate mooncakes stuffed with fragrant durian and coconut; and báhn chao, flat, oily little cookies with a thin layer of meat in them. Lewis Dam is roast-master in training. He is learning from his father how to expertly wield the cleaver. “We took all our experience from yum cha and put it into a takeaway shop,” says Dam. “You get all the stuff you get at yum cha, but double the size.”
Since returning to the suburb in recent months to conduct her own tour of the region, Chong reckons there has been a changing of the guard in Springvale; second and third generations are taking over the family-run businesses. “I was so excited to come here again and see a whole other generation,” she says. “All of those original people are still here, but their children are now running the restaurants.”
At Thanh Phat, Kelvin Tran, originally from Ho Chi Minh City, is serving some unusual regional Vietnamese cuisine. His signature dish is bánh khọt, tiny rice-flour pancakes that are crisply caramelised on the outside, gooey inside, and with a single prawn nestled in the middle. Like its larger cousin, bánh xèo, they’re served with fresh lettuce and mint. They’re a little similar in taste and texture to Japanese takoyaki, and just as addictive.
For those who prefer to get adventurous in their own kitchen, Springvale’s selection of produce is extensive. Frozen Smart, as its name helpfully suggests, is a cornucopia of pre-prepared dim sum and wontons, as well as unusual fish varieties such as spiny goby, striped goatfish, hairtail, salt gourami and golden-banded fusilier. Downstairs the local butcher proudly displays more offal than can be found anywhere this side of Hanoi: kidneys, liver, intestine, giblets, even whole pig heads for the truly courageous. Across the way Binh Minh grocer stocks a wide variety of uncommon fruits and vegetables, including – but not limited to – hog plum, winter melon, sinqua (somewhere between okra and zucchini) and luffa (a kind of gourd).
You could, for a moment, believe you were in Vietnam, not an hour outside of the Melbourne CBD. “I was in Vietnam a few months ago, and when I came back to Springvale, I forgot I was actually here in Melbourne,” says Chong.
Places to try in Springvale:
Bun Bun Bakery
1/288 Springvale Road
(03) 9547 8289
Golden Lakes Cakes and Roast
268–274 Springvale Road
(03) 9574 6881
Springvale Shopping Centre
Hoang Yen Chinese and Vietnamese
10 F Balmoral Avenue (in Buckingham Ave)
(03) 9547 8878
28 Buckingham Avenue, Springvale
(03) 9540 3551
18 Buckingham Avenue
(03) 9548 4887
Pho Hung Vuong 2
Shop 2, 15 Balmoral Avenue
(03) 9558 5147
Springvale Shopping Centre, Springvale
(03) 9540 3933
Milan Tea House
Shop 33D Buckingham Avenue
Cultural and Food Tours
City of Greater Dandenong