When I knew I was going up to Brisbane for several days I couldn’t help but do a little bit of research on places I’d like to eat at. Nothing fancy, just somewhere local where I could drag a willing family participant (or five of them) to partake in a little food enjoyment. My parents live in an area called Forest Lake, a planned suburban development in the southern suburbs full of houses that look very much like the one next door, a suburb full of roundabouts and gum trees, retirees and young families with children.
Not even five minutes drive away is the much older suburb of Inala, a place that’s a little rough around the edges with a shopping centre saturated with Vietnamese restaurants, butchers and grocers. The main shopping building is a bit of a discount-store dump but the smaller buildings on its peripheries and its central plaza remind me of Cabramatta in Sydney, lively and dynamic with a mish-mash of multi-cultured locals socialising and families enjoying time together.
I already knew about this vibrant little enclave and did a little online research on which Vietnamese place was the best to eat at. Only one place kept popping up in the reviews – Tan Thanh. Some people even said it was the best place in Brisbane to have pho, something I just had to try for myself.
Located across the arcade from the Probation & Parole Office (yes, we are in Inala) Tan Thanh resembles just about any other low-key Vietnamese eatery I’ve been to. Glazed tile floors, uncomfortable metal-framed chairs that make a racket when you drag them out, high voltage lighting, blank walls and that comforting table caddy with condiments and eating implements.
As we sip our freshly made iced teas and coffees we get plates of crispy spring rolls (1.2 each), pork & prawn rice paper rolls and deep fried wontons (6.5) – just a few bits to get us started.
The rice paper rolls are some of the best I’ve tried and the hoisin & crushed peanut sauce is all the better with a dash of chilli. My colourful tri colour coconut milk (3.8) had the family curious with its appearance but not convinced by its flavour and textures. Novices. The sedimentary layers of green jelly, longan and red azuki beans beneath crushed ice, coconut milk and peanuts are just delicious and incredibly refreshing.
My combination broken rice (8.5), otherwise known as com tam, is an absolute winner with its collection of tenderly grilled pork chop, shredded pork skin, pork cake, fried egg and pickled veg. Porky goodness!
Steaming bowls of soup begin to fill the table in different combinations and by the look of it they’re well-received, as is the tasty grilled pork on vermicelli (9).
The food was so good that I couldn’t help but return the following morning with some other members of my family to try a few other bits from the extensive menu. I’m horrified to learn that none of them ever eat at these places, despite the fact it’s on their doorstep. If only there was Vietnamese this good five minutes from my place!
I just had to try the sugarcane prawn (12), a dish I always enjoy down to the final chewing on the juicy sweet sugar cane stump. Here at Tân Thành they serve it up with small discs of rice paper that you soak yourself and roll with lettuce and herbs before dunking into nuoc cham.
Big Bro likes the sound of duck salad with rice noodle soup (10.5) and as impressive as the serving is for the price you pay, the only highlight is the soup. The tepid duck on the side is nothing more than bone and grissle and a few scant pieces of meat.
The rice with crispy chicken (8.5) is a winner with its beautiful dry-fry of well-seasoned bits of chook that kicked the taste buds with chilli and lemongrass.
The special beef noodle soup (9) is the specialty of the house so I left this one for last. I think this is the one people seem to rave about. I’ve had pho before and to be honest I haven’t had enough of them to make the call of any being the best. The typically massive bowl is chockers with shaved beef, beef tendons, tripe, noodles and a very tasty broth. I’m loving every mouthful.
After a bit of a wander around the Inala Civic Centre I quietly wished I could just eat my way around the multitude of Vietnamese eateries, one by one, dish by dish. I reckon I’d need a couple of weeks for that.