Chumanchu, Preston

During this period of social distancing, I will be reviewing restaurants I visited way back when but who are still doing pickup and/or delivery during this time. Please support them by ordering whatever you can from them – whether it’s food, merch or fresh produce – to help them stay afloat in these difficult times.

Where: Chumanchu, 2/4 Gilbert Road Preston

What: One of the best pad see ews I’ve had

Who: Mr Whatever Floats Your Bloat, Bottomless Pit, Part-Time Vegan, Bin Ninja, DJ Dan, Bling-Zing Jeweller

Bloat score: 0 – Living the dream

Way back in December 2019, I was tasked with finding a restaurant that a) wouldn’t be inundated with people pre-Christmas and b) was a convenient enough focal point for people living in Cragieburn, Montmorency and Seaford. After a frenzied few minutes wrestling with Google Maps, I decided on Preston (doesn’t seem fair, does it) and more specifically, Vietnamese eatery Chumanchu which I’d never visited before.

Chumanchu’s menu is largely Vietnamese with a few Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian flourishes. Interestingly, I found out its owner Marten Chu is the brother of Nahji Chu, founder of the popular Misschu chain.

It’s situated in a crossway of tram tracks in a quieter part of Preston, closer to St Georges Road and away from the hubbub of High Street. It’s a really cute pocket full of small restaurants, cutesy cafes and self-contained bars.

Bottomless Pit, who far outstrips me in his ability to never feel the burden of fullness, and Part-Time Vegan, who has flirted with protracted periods of meat-free eating in her lifetime, were both there when Mr Whatever Floats Your Bloat and I arrived. Because we found out the other three – who, to be fair, were coming from Montmorency and Seaford – were running late, the four of us ordered entrees to share.

I’m firmly in the camp who think vegetarian spring rolls are the best spring rolls and Chumanchu’s didn’t disappoint. Crisp pastry encasing diced up carrots, mushrooms and cabbage were a delight when wrapped with lettuce, pickled carrots and Vietnamese mint, and then dipped in the nước chấm (a Vietnamese condiment comprising fish sauce, water, sugar and lime juice).

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The chicken satay was similarly successful. The satay sauce, served in a tiny ramekin on the side, had discernible pieces of peanuts in it and a citrus flavour from makrut lime (read here about the racist etymology of the label ‘kaffir lime’ which I’m choosing not to use here for that reason). I can’t eat satay sauce because the low-histamine diet eschews any nut pastes, but I had a little taste and it was wonderfully savoury and true to the satay I’ve tasted back home in Malaysia. The chicken itself was also basted in the same satay sauce.

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The polishing off of our last chicken satay skewer coincided with Bin Ninja, DJ Dan and Bling-Zing Jeweller arriving. Bin Ninja is a mother of four who takes to depositing her overflowing bags of rubbish in the bins of neighbours by the cover of darkness, DJ Dan used to moonlight as a deejay in his youth, and Bling-Zing Jeweller has a homemade line of simple, lightweight jewellery which you should all check out.

Part-Time Vegan, Mr WFYB and I decided to share three mains – the tofu pad see ew, the kho chay (Buddhist stew) and the vegetarian red curry. I generally abstain from eating any curries when I’m out for Thai or Vietnamese because there are so many bloat-friendly alternatives, so Part-Time Vegan and Mr WFYB tackled the vegetarian red curry by themselves.

The tofu pad see ew was a highlight. A mountain of extremely thick, wide and flat rice noodles came peppered with capsicum, tofu and green beans and showered with a garnish of fried shallots. I haven’t seen a pad see ew with noodles as flat and wide as this, but they were a delight because the sweetish sauce clung to every strand. I tried to avoid the fried shallots as much as I could because, intolerances, but I’m only human and overlooked the crunchy bits that somehow ended up on my plate.

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The kho chay was more virtuous than I expected – a thin soup of snow peas, green beans, cabbage and corn with the odd chunk of seitan was a mild counterpart to the punchy flavours of the pad see ew. I haven’t had this particular dish before, however, so would love to hear from someone who is more familiar with it, though a quick google search rendered claypot images with a more velvety and far darker sauce than ours, similar to the braised Malaysian soupy dish bak kut teh sans the pork.

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Part-Time Vegan and Mr WFYB enjoyed the vegetarian red curry ladled over their coconut rice. Part-Time Vegan said it was light on heat and sweet with the strong aroma of coconut milk.

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Bottomless Pit ordered the mee goreng – Hokkien noodles cooked with a variety of seafood in a tomatoey base – and enjoyed it, but said it was slightly too wet for his liking.

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DJ Dan ordered the crispy skin barramundi fillet dressed with watercress and Spanish onions and drizzled with a ginger and chilli nước chấm. The skin on this looked worthy of its descriptor and the abundance of fresh herbs and sliced carrots and spring onions elevated the freshness of this dish.

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Bin Ninja ordered a bowl of wagyu beef pho, which came in a humongous bowl with its requisite accompaniments of bean sprouts, Vietnamese mint, hoi sin, red chilli flakes and cut red chilli. She enjoyed it immensely.

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Equally happy with their dish was Bling-Zing Jeweller, who ordered the chicken pad thai, which was dusted with crushed peanuts and a generous heap of bean sprouts.

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By this stage, we were all too full to consider dessert, though there were a few mouth-watering options – from a sticky date pudding with the Southeast Asian twists of palm sugar and shaved coconut to warm sticky black rice with coconut milk and papaya. We chose instead to venture to the bar opposite, The Merri Clan – for the record, the cosiest bar ever – for a nightcap. 

I wasn’t punished too heavily for eating the few crunchy shallots on my plate and escaped with zero bloats. We ordered so much food that we had some to take away, and I enjoyed our pad see ew leftovers the next day.  

Chumanchu is usually open from 9am to 10pm Tuesday to Thursday and from 8am to 10pm Friday to Sunday. Right now, Chumanchu is closed for dining in, but open for pickup and delivery between 5pm and 10pm. The delivery fee is $10.

Author: Sonia Nair

Sonia Nair is a Melbourne-based food writer who persists with her love of everything deep fried and spicy, despite being diagnosed with a histamine intolerance and lactose intolerance after incorrectly thinking she was fructose-intolerant for several years.

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