Where: Hawker Boys, 85 Hardware Lane Melbourne
What: Fresh and tasty zero-bloat Vietnamese food
Who: Body Posi Dietician
Bloat score: 0 – Living the dream
Body Posi Dietician was in town from Ararat, and so I set myself the mission of finding an intolerance-friendly yet suitably exciting lunch destination for our catch-up – I’d unwittingly taken her to my perennial favourite Kaneda the last two times she was in town and was keen to prove to her that I dined at other establishments in Melbourne.
I’ve been advised that the best cuisines for a low-histamine diet are Japanese and Vietnamese, and though everyone knows the best iterations of both cuisines are not to be found in the city, I thought of giving Hawker Boys a try.
I assumed Hawker Boys was new, but reviews dating back to 2016 revealed how little I venture up to Hardware Lane. Bright neon signage introduced the restaurant, which is split imperceptibly into two levels. While it was my favourite kind of Melbourne day when we visited – sunny yet crisp – we decided to sit inside, though I was tempted by the tables spilling out into the sun. The walls inside Hawker Boys are adorned with pink and black murals depicting scenes from a street market – it’s a cutesy, exuberant backdrop and one that plays on the bright, light-filled space to great effect.
There’s never been a better time to have the word ‘hawker’ in your restaurant name if recent openings are anything to go by – from Hawker Hall in Windsor and Village People Hawker Foodhall in Fitzroy to HWKR Food Centre and Hawker Chan in the CBD, there’s cultural cachet in replicating the bustling, frenetic atmosphere of sitting in a hawker centre in South East Asia. Unlike Hawker Chan which goes closest to reflecting the sheer chaos of a hawker centre and where you line up to order your food, Hawker Boys is a calm and sedate experience – it’s table service and you don’t even have to wait for a table. And unlike Hawker Hall, which is yet another outpost of Chris Lucas’s expanding food empire, and HWKR, which was supposedly ‘pioneered’ by a property developer, Hawker Boys is a small family-run business established by young Vietnamese-Chinese couple Monica and Pete and his mother.
I’m still unsure how safe pho is on a low-histamine diet – my dietician advised me to avoid commercial stock – and I’d had a few rice vermicelli salads recently, so I went with the Vietnamese slaw with chicken sans fried shallots. I can eat white and red cabbage, the two main ingredients of a Vietnamese slaw, and reasoned that the pickled carrots, cucumber, coriander and sesame wouldn’t be enough to irritate my gut. On this rare occasion, I was right.
I enjoyed this dish more than I thought I would. I’ve never been a big fan of slaw, but this rendition was light yet full of flavour. The grilled lemongrass chicken was well cooked and tender with warm bite-sized pieces scattered throughout the slaw – negating any fear I had that this dish wouldn’t be comforting enough for a cold winter’s day – and the pickled carrots and cucumber added a pleasant zing throughout, which was very much welcomed seeing I couldn’t avail myself of the Sriracha sitting next to me like I normally would (apparently chilli is not permitted on this diet).
Body Posi Dietician, who will not tolerate any diet talk or calorie counting or other such fat shaming behaviour, proclaimed that she was in the mood for carbs and ordered the crispy fried tofu rice bowl. After moaning about being deprived of Vietnamese food in Ararat, Body Posi Dietician promptly chowed this bowl down so I must have chosen right.
The highlight of my meal, however, was the pork spring rolls we ordered as our entrée. I very rarely order pork spring rolls, accustomed as I am to vegetarian ones, but these were out of this world. Gingery and herb-infused cooked pork had been interspersed with something crunchy akin to water chestnuts, though I can’t be sure, and each bite within the perfectly deep fried spring roll wrappers was an explosion of umami flavours in my mouth. Body Posi Dietician and I split the last spring roll into two because neither of us could bear to do without it.
I am highly keen to revisit Hawker Boys on a day when I’m prepared to feel deathly ill after as there’s so much I’d love to try – from their soft shell crab and spicy mayo banh mi to their 48-hour marinated char siu. They have a $59 ‘feed me’ menu, which I may just have to try one of these days.
Hawker Boys is open from 11am to 9pm Monday to Thursday and from 11am to 10pm Friday to Saturday.