Like many young kids, Joy Le grew up thinking her mum’s cooking was the best food on Earth. Decades later, she still believed it to be true and went on a mission to prove it to everyone else. Only problem was her mum was already employed to cook someone else’s food. “Her food is so nice but she was just a kitchen hand. I was sick of her working for other people,” says Joy. So, she asked her mum Le Le to quit so they could open their own restaurant.
“She said I was crazy and I shouldn’t do it because I have three kids but she was getting old. It was time.” Sometime later Xin Chao opened; a small Campsie restaurant specialising in what Le does best, classic Vietnamese comfort food. “It’s all what she learnt in refugee camps,” says Joy. “We want to show what authentic Vietnamese food is all about. A lot of other restaurants just open for the sake of it, everything here is the same as what we cook at home.”
Different noodle soups made up a big part of the menu. In Vietnam they’re everywhere, on the street, in the home and even in fancy restaurants. They’re eaten breakfast through to dinner and everyone, regardless of class, eats them. Pho is easily the most famous here, but in Vietnam there are many popular iterations.
Bún bò huế is a central Vietnamese spicy beef noodle soup that differs from pho in its use of lemongrass, dried chili and shrimp. It’s spicy, tart and if we’re comparing it to southern-style pho (the variety most common in Sydney and what Le makes) less sweet too. “Different regions eat differently, this is how we rock. In the south it's all about flavour, you need sweet, salt, chilli and sour all balanced together,” says Joy.
For something radically different to the usual beef broth try bánh canh cua, a viscous southern-style crab soup with thick, translucent tapioca noodles and fish cakes. “You can find dishes like this in Cabramatta but otherwise no-one really serves this,” Joy says.
Like many Vietnamese restaurants in Australia, a lot of the food here is focused around solo dining rather than the traditional banquet style set up you’d find in most Viet homes during dinner time. You’ll also find bún (vermicelli rice bowls packed with lemongrass beef, grilled pork or prawn patties) and cơm tấm (broken rice grains served with whatever you want on the side – pork chops and egg being most popular). If you’re dining as a group and you’re looking for something more traditionally communal get a platter of bánh hỏi (DIY rice paper rolls with noodle patties, grilled beef skewers, prawn patties and fresh herbs).