Growing up in the inner west meant easy access to Greek and Italian sweets as well as Vietnamese breads and pastries. My mother would often purchase crusty baguette rolls with their soft, fluffy innards and a croissant for me. I would spend seemingly forever attempting to eat one, usually only getting halfway, by patiently peeling off individual layers and marvelling at their delicate translucency.
Banh mi thit, or Vietnamese pork rolls, are not something I grew up with but something I’ve grown to love since adulthood. Now while my current living area is diverse in Japanese and Cantonese cuisine options, with a steady increase in Korean eateries in recent years as well, it is definitely lacking in the Vietnamese department. I know of only three Vietnamese restaurants in my immediate vicinity, and I struggled when it came to thinking of Vietnamese bakeries from where I could procure banh mi thit for which I’d had an unexplained craving for 48 hours.
This is the journey that it led me on.
Sweet Delight Bakery
Situated between a newish Japanese ramen joint and Porters Liquor along a section of Victoria Avenue away from the main shopping strip, this little bakery is well-stocked with not only loaves of bread and bread rolls but plenty of full-sized cakes, tarts, slices and pastries also.
Their pork and chicken rolls are served to us on soft, non-crusty rolls absolutely jam-packed with salad fillings. Retro charm is added by having each roll cut in half and brought out to us on mismatched plates. The chicken roll turns out to be the tastier of the two and I am disappointed that the pork roll is missing the usual pork pâté.
Cherry Lane Cakes
Being across the road from one of the entrance points to Chatswood station, I can’t even begin to think how many times I may have walked past here without realising that they sold banh mi. It seems I may be in the minority as, when I dropped in to try one, several people wandered in after me ordering the same. Heck, one fellow even asked for his “usual”.
The first and more recent times here have seen their rolls served on crusty baguettes, but interestingly our second visit resulted in soft rolls being used like at Sweet Delight above. I am encouraged by their having pork pâté which results in a much richer pork taste. (Strangely, pork pâté is spread on the chicken rolls as well.) There is little soy/seasoning flavour, however, despite witnessing it having been drizzled on each time.
Years ago I had originally dismissed this as another one of those chains which reside in large shopping centres. That was before I’d ever tried their hot cross buns, but now I’ve been buying theirs each year since. Which of course then begs the question of how many times have I stood there completely oblivious to their glass cabinet which houses banh mi fillings.
The visit to this final bakery also brings triumph in being the tastiest pork roll of the three. There is an obvious taste of pork pâté which is tempered by the slight saltiness of the thin(nest) slices of cold meats laid on top – but then I see Chinese roast pork being added! The crusty baguette adds shatter and, so far, this is the only soy sauce/seasoning I’ve been able to taste of those tried.
Bakeries like these retain that small, independent bakery/corner store look and charm about them. It’s comforting and reminds me of simpler times – I could have wandered in during my childhood, ten years ago or just yesterday and it would have looked the same. I guess that’s part of the appeal.
Sweet Delight Bakery
224 Victoria Ave (between Olga St & Robinson St), Chatswood NSW
Tel: (02) 9413 4641
Cherry Lane Cakes
Shop 3, 457 Victoria Ave (next to 7-11), Chatswood NSW
Tel: (02) 9413 4594
Shop 213, Level 2, Westfield Chatswood (next Oliver Brown), Chatswood NSW
Tel: (02) 9413 1347