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Meet Pink from East Street Canberra and Green Papaya Prawn Salad

The ‘Meet….’ series gives you a glimpse into the inner workings of some of my all time fave peeps, cheffing superheroes and foodie friends. I ask the same ten questions and you get their heartfelt responses. 

If there is one cuisine in the world I would happily eat a couple of times each week, it is Vietnamese food. It’d be lightly spiced warming soups or refreshing, cooling summer salads.  Yep, this beautiful, magical, delicious (get in my belly) tukka ticks all the happy tastebud boxes for me.

While working at a wedding fair a few years back, I met Pink; a pint sized sassy lass who ran a Bridal Boutique and she wasn’t going to let a wedding gown 3 times her size beat her. Offering to help, she replied, ‘Ohhhh… I wish I could snap my fingers and be done here, I’d much rather be cooking up a bowl of sweet and sour tomato and pineapple soup, with the fruits still juicy and sweet. She went on to describe this sumptuous meal by telling me all the fragrant herbs she’d use, the seafood for protein, and some chilli to spice things up’. Yes please, I replied. I am free every day next week, I wanna a bowl of that.

What inspired you to create East Street Canberra?

I’ve always been obsessed with good food, and I think my dad being a chef by trade certainly helped too. But, I wanted to move away from the 9-5 corporate lifestyle and working with food seemed a natural next step. I also love sharing great food and getting to experience the joy that it brings people I cook for. But the really awesome thing about East Street Canberra is, now I get to tell a story about the amazing Vietnamese dishes that I grew up with and love so much.

Tell us a little about your foodie journeys, are you a chef by trade? Do you work professionally in kitchens or the food industry? Professional eater?

My foodie journey began at the tender age of 10 when my mum had my sister, I took over the household cooking duties in the family to help out. One of the things I miss the most about Vietnam (and Asia in general) is going to the food markets and all the ladies at the stalls would remember me and what groceries I wanted. They even helped me to pick the best produce, and to 10 year old me, that was pretty special.

Given I’m not a trained chef, I’m very lucky to have worked in some amazing kitchens, I just finished a short term contract with the National Gallery of Australia, but growing up with a chef dad prepared me for what I am doing today. Dad’s firm belief is that a recipe is not given, it is earned by helping out in the kitchen. My grandparents owned a Pho restaurant for 30 years, and I still don’t know the recipe, I think it’s time to help Dad make some Pho.

What is your signature dish or favourite food/dish to prepare?

My absolute favourite dish is Hai Phong Crab Noodle soup (Banh Da Cua), brown rice noodles served in a rice paddy crab soup. The noodles are chewier than other types of rice noodles, with more of a roasted rice flavour. The soup is made from pounded up rice paddy crabs and traditionally served with pork balls and betal leaf meat patties. What makes this dish extra special is the use of rice field crabs, pork crackling and lots of fried shallots. I miss it, and crave it every day.

My signature dish is yet to be showcased at East Street Canberra, but the dish is called Nem, it is a seafood rice paper spring roll, Hai Phong style of course. It’s basically a spring roll, but on steroids. Haha!

Do you do the cooking at home?

Of course, I’m too picky to let the hubby do the cooking ☺. Though he does make a delish chicken pie!

When you just want to make something simple, quick, and delicious, what do you prepare? We’d love to learn one of your recipes.

It would be my Green Papaya salad with Prawns and lots of fresh herbs, it’s gluten free and dairy free, and if you want it to be vegetarian, just don’t add the prawns.

Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: 20-30 minutes

  • 90 ml (¼ cup) fish sauce
  • 60 ml (¼ cup) white vinegar
  • 60 ml (¼ cup) water
  • 110 g (½ cup) sugar
  • 1 green papaya, peeled, halved, seeded and finely julienne
  • 1 carrot, finely julienne
  • 8 deveined prawns, cooked and sliced in half
  • 200 grams of pork belly
  • 100 gram wedge of onion
  • ⅓ bunch of Vietnamese mint, plucked, roughly chopped
  • ⅓ bunch of coriander, roughly chopped. Save some for garnishing later
  • ¼ cup fried shallots
  • 1 red chilly, thinly sliced
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Step 1: Poach pork belly for 20 minutes or until cooked in water, wedge of onion, pinch of salt. Thinly slice when cooked.

Step 2: Soak the finely julienned papaya and carrot in lemon juice water for 20 minutes to remove sap, slightly soften and prevent bruising.

Step 3: Combine the fish sauce, vinegar, water and sugar in a bowl, stirring until the sugar dissolves to make the dressing. Add chilly to taste and more fish sauce if needed. (It is very Vietnamese to add more fish sauce).

Step 4: Combine the papaya, carrot, prawns, pork, mint and coriander in a separate bowl. Pour a good amount of dressing over the salad and gently toss, be light handed with your salad to avoid bruising.

Step 5: Pile the salad high on a plate, adding more prawns and coriander if needed. Generously sprinkle fried shallots on top.

NOTE: Serve with prawn crackers if you’re in the mood, it helps to scoop up the salad.

What was your worst kitchen disaster? Worst cut, burn etc. What happened?

Hmmm, which disaster do I pick? This particular burn happened a couple of years ago when I was making Bo Luc Lac aka Shake Pepper Beef. I was tossing the beef in a very, very hot pan, it was only a few seconds, but I forgot and grabbed the pan with my bare hand and burnt my entire left palm. I couldn’t cook for a week after that happened, but the beef turned out great and was really yummy, so it was worth it!

What is your fave breakfast?

In Australia I LOVE scrambled eggs with lots of mushroom and sautéed spinach. If I’m feeling naughty, I add some super crispy bacon on the side. Oh, and a glass of freshly squeezed juice. YUM!

In Vietnam: PHO with crispy bread sticks. ☺

What are your go to places in Canberra for an excellent foodie experience?

This is a very hard question, especially since our awesome city offers so many excellent choices, but….. lets break this down.

Relaxed, casual meal: the Hamlet – Souvlaki for days!, Chez Federic and Dumpling Inn in Jamison for peking duck and honey ginger prawns.

Night out: Les Bistronomes, Temporada, Courgette which is still my favourite restaurant after many years in Canberra.

Drinks: Bentspoke Brewing Co, George Harcourt for a Brookvale ginger beer on tap and Knightbridge Penthouse.

If you were stranded on a desert island and could only bring three things, what would they be and why?

My hubby, a frying pan and a really big bottle of fish sauce. Hah!

If you were to invite a famous person to your house for a meal (any meal) — who would it be, what would you prepare, and why?

I’d have Julia Child to my house and the dish I would prepare is Boeuf Bourguignon. It’s a dish that represents her, and her passion for amazing food and the people who enjoy good food too. She seems like she would be great fun and just imagine her saying ‘Bon Appetit’ in person.

Be sure to pop by East Street Canberra Facebook page and let Pink know what you thought of her delicious Green Papaya and Apple salad with Prawns, or to find out where you can nab a bowl of her delicious Vietnamese style street food.

I’d love to know what beautiful, magical, delicious (get in your belly) tukka ticks all the happy tastebud boxes for you? 

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