I’ve been exploring the cycle paths of Sydney with a group of friends. Our monthly rides are providing a great opportunity to sample Sydney’s food landscape. Last month we were aiming for Cabramatta, but a looming storm stopped us short of our goal, Vietnamese food. Unable to leave our craving unsatisfied we stopped off in Flemington for a meal on our way home. On that blustery afternoon a big bowl of soup was exactly what we needed. After that first introduction to the food at Toan Thang I was keen to get back to take photos, so this month our ride was planned with that destination in mind. We started at Sydney Uni and headed to the airport, then followed the Cooks River cycleway bound for Homebush. It was a hot day and we soon found that sultanas were not enough to stave off the hunger induced by our cycling regimen and monkey bar habits. We arrived in Flemington famished, crossing our fingers that the queue outside Toan Thang wouldn’t be unbearably long.
After a short wait a table for four became available and the hungry riders took a seat. It is hard to know whether to describe the atmosphere in terms of efficiency or confusion. The restaurant was completely full and a waitress kept track on the sizes of the parties in the queue so there was never a seat unoccupied. A hungry, chattering crowd was served remarkably quickly. Tea and menus arrived almost immediately and we selected our meals. Two of the party immediately chose the rare beef rice noodle soup, while the remaining two were very grateful to have a Cantonese speaker to explain our special requirements. I ordered the beef vermicelli hotpot after checking it didn’t contain wheat flour. The other negotiations concluded with a vegetable soup, to avoid the prospect of rare meat. Even tofu and mushrooms were rejected for their potential strangeness. The resulting chinese broccoli soup looked a little sad, I thought.
A big advantage of Vietnamese soup is that it’s a case of choose your own adventure. Our broccoli soup eater gradually became more adventurous with the addition of soy sauce, then hoisin, but stopped short of chilli.
The beef soup looked much more appetising, especially with the addition of bean sprouts and fragrant basil. The chilli came in three varieties, sliced, as a smooth sauce from a bottle, or thick and oily by the spoonful. The spoonable option offered the richest flavour and fragrance.
The vermicelli hotpot won the prize for the biggest meal. Not only was there a bowl full of noodles, pineapple, capsicum and beef, but there was an additional dinnerplate of rice! It was more carbohydrate than I could handle, but the hotpot was lovely with its sweet flavours. The vermicelli were nearly transparent, probably mung bean glass noodles rather than rice.
Feeling adventurous and thirsty two of us ordered cold drinks as well. The coconut drink featured floating pieces of coconut flesh. The red bean drink felt like a dessert since it required a spoon, not a straw, to eat it. It had glass noodles, sweet red beans and coconut milk with ice. It was very sweet and cold, refreshing after a hot ride.
Toan Thang is a little restaurant tucked into a mall in Flemington, but it draws queues of followers. No wonder since its meals are served so speedily that the waiting is soon a fading memory as you feast on fragrant soup.
Ratings (out of 5 snorts)
Toan Thang is opposite Flemington Station
Shop 9, 90-95 The Crescent, Homebush West 2140