Trần Lệ Xuân, popularly known as Madame Nhu, was the de facto First Lady of South Vietnam from 1955 to 1963.
….so says my Google search when I type in ‘Madame Nhu.’
This was not a research project about first ladies however, but of course of food.
The Madame Nhu that I was interested in is a casual eatery in Sydney that draws upon popular Vietnamese street food and has locations both in Surry Hills and in the food court of The Galeries, Victoria. I was lured here by the photo of an ex-colleague’s friend, who had Instagrammed her photo of ‘salt and pepper tofu’. While I wouldn’t call myself a raging obsessive over this soybean concoction, I do appreciate it and frankly, anything salt and pepper is delicious.
I ventured down to The Galeries during my lunch break a little before 1.00 pm to avoid the lunch time scrum, and it wasn’t difficult to spot the eatery at all. Plus the fact that on the way downstairs, I saw a girl carrying a Madame Nhu paper bag and not bothering to find somewhere to sit and savour her lunch, was walking and slurping down noodles at the same time. Must be good, I thought.
They had fresh Vietnamese rice paper rolls, phở, various sets with grilled meats and rice vermicelli. There’s a little space to sit inside, but otherwise you spill out onto the main food court floor. They also had takeaway, which was an attractive option for someone who had already used up half of her lunch break walking here!
Once you order at the counter you get a buzzer and loiter around the area. The kitchen is relatively open and you can watch them at work, and boy do they work quickly! My salt and pepper tofu vermicelli ($9.50) came out within 10 minutes and with my brown paper bag packed full of goodness, I traipsed back to the office and unwrapped.
The serving was definitely generous! The bowl was a hearty mix of several tender, still hot squares of silken tofu wrapped in a fried batter well-seasoned with Sichuan pepper and chilli salt, served on a bed of lettuce, bean sprout and snow pea sprout salad, seasoned with Vietnamese herbs, chilli and spring onion, with a layer of glorious rice vermicelli noodles beneath.
I had been given quite a dark, thick and syrupy sauce with my vermicelli, and I was surprised at how sweet it was – quite heavy on the palm sugar and fish sauce. I originally tried the vermicelli without the sauce before adding it, and it was simply delicious with it. I devoured the whole bowl of tofu and vermicelli with relish. This was the first time I’ve ever had real Vietnamese food, and suffice to say, I was loving it.
I was so delighted by my new experience that I went back the next day for more. Unfortunately phở was out of the question as I had to get takeaway (another time, for sure) so I went for another vermicelli option, the sugarcane prawn ($9.50).
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a favourite! I had seen chefs making these on Masterchef Professionals and had had no idea at the time what these even remotely tasted like, but now I’m hooked. Simply put, it’s twice-cooked prawn mousse wrapped around a stick of sugarcane, but the mousse was so tender and fluffy, and wonderfully infused with the sweetness of the sugarcane. Grilled to perfection. Everyone who came into the tearoom commented on how glorious it smelled. This is one of the few foods I’ve had in my life which has elicited a vocal ‘Mmmmmmmmf’ from me whilst tasting it – I had died and gone to heaven.
The skewers were topped with some fried eschalots and came with some salad, rice vermicelli and a light dressing.
The lighter dressing was a little acidic and helped to cut through the heaviness of the prawn skewers. The portion was unbelievably generous (two huge skewers!) for $9.50, what a ripper. And can you believe both of these meals were healthy too??
I’m definitely going back for my first taste of phở and cannot wait!!
Shop 5 Lower Ground, The Galeries Victoria
500 George Street Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 9283 3355