1 May 2023

Five minutes with Tien Nguyen, Little Phat Rolls

| James Day
two man at a food truck

Tien Nguyen, owner of Little Phat Rolls, and chef Anh Nguyen. Photo: James Day.

Who are you?
My name is Tien Nguyen, I’m the co-owner with my wife, Phuong, of the Little Phat Rolls Food Truck in Braddon and Saigon Asian Grocery in Dickson.

What is your business?
I opened the Little Phat Rolls food truck with my wife Phuong and my chef Anh, a friend I made through soccer who previously worked at Bistro Nguyen. We came up with the idea to sell Vietnamese street food. Anh is from the north side, Phuong is from the south side, and I’m from the middle, so we are a combination of different flavours from all over the country.

The truck allows us to reveal the culture of Vietnam through the food. It’s an opportunity to sit down, eat the food, and listen to the local people talking about why they are making it the way they are.

For example, where I come from in the middle of Vietnam, most people are involved in fishing. According to their customs, when you are eating fish with bones in them, you’re only allowed to cook the fish on one side. This is because they believe that if you flip it over on the grill your boat will also flip over the next time you go fishing.

READ MORE Hot in the City: Little Phat Rolls serves up phresh, phabulous phood

How do the flavours from each region of Vietnam differ?
For the north side, they don’t like anything sweet and nothing too salty or spicy. They want something neutral and with fewer ingredients. In the middle where I’m from, we like anything very salty and spicy but not sweet. Sweetness is one of the worst flavours for people from the middle of Vietnam. Then for the south, they really like sweet. For example, they often mix sugar in when frying an egg.

To break this tension, Anh from the north, my wife from the south and myself from the middle all contribute one flavour to each Banh Mi recipe. We have come up with eight different vegan and meat flavours together, which each sacrifice a bit of our own flavours to be something that can satisfy most of the customers.

What’s a dish that you serve that best sums up what your venue does?
Banh Mi, it’s what we are about. There are two kinds, one is the traditional Banh Mi. All the pickles and vegetables are the same across all the recipes, but the meat is different. The traditional pork is combined with two slices of pork loaf, then we put in the marinated pork belly, which has been dipped in our own special sauce that you won’t find anywhere else in Canberra. This took us nearly two years to come up with.

What dish best describes you?
Banh Mi! First, it’s something that I can eat every day. Then it’s because it looks a bit hard from the outside and not very impressive, but on the inside it’s quite soft and delicious. Also, it wouldn’t be a Banh Mi without the veggies, pickles, sauce and chilli that give it a bit of sweet, spicy and salty. I think I’m quite similar. I don’t look very impressive from the outside, but I believe that from within I have more things to show.

Favourite cuisine?
Vietnamese of course, especially the food from my hometown. We are a riverside city where I can get most of the fresh seafood supplies, but also vegetarian dishes that are fantastic for a vegan like me.

An ingredient you can’t live without?
Bird’s eye chilli.

READ ALSO Hot in the City: Bui’s Restaurant brings the flavours of Vietnam to Kingston

Who is your biggest culinary influence?
My mentor when I came to Australia, Vinny Nguyen (no relation), who founded What the Pho. He was my master not only in life but also in cooking, as he was doing the exact same thing as I am now. I was helping him to run that restaurant back then but he left for Vietnam, since then he’s been very helpful with advice on business and life. He’s my big brother.

What’s inspiring you right now?
I’m quite impressed with the normal, busy, working mum who can figure out what to make for their whole family every day. For me, the average customer I serve is not going to come and complain about the food as it is a fixed menu. For the daily working mum that comes home at the end of the day to cook something for their family who each like different things, there is a lot of struggle in making sure everyone is happy. I can see this every day with mine and Anh’s partner, as well as at the grocery store in Dickson where the family is arguing about what’s for dinner.

What do you wish people understood about your job?
How hard we work in the back, which is all in preparation for bringing this tasty food to you. And if we’ve done something wrong, just come up and tell us nicely because we will learn from it. We are human beings and can’t always get it right, but we do everything with our hearts.

The front of the Little Phat Rolls food truck with the roundabout and surrounding buildings shown behind.

The Little Phat Rolls food truck is on the corner of Lonsdale and Elouera Street, right next to the rainbow roundabout. Photo: James Day.

Where do you dine out in Canberra for comfort food?
Pho Phu Quoc in Dickson is where I get my Vietnamese. The second place is the Two Sisters Lao Thai restaurant, which is also in Dickson, very family friendly and has delicious food.

Where do you dine out for special occasions?
I like to always try something new for a special occasion, which my partner and I like to do together. The risk is always worth it and paid off most recently at the Filipino restaurant in Watson called Lolo and Lola.

What’s your go-to coffee?
Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk.

Where would you take out-of-town visitors to show off the best of Canberra?
Au Lac in Dickson, it’s got the best vegetarian food in Canberra.

What’s your dream travel destination?
The UK because I love football.

What’s a well-kept foodie secret in Canberra?
Definitely Lolo and Lola, I think they deserve a lot more attention and popularity for the food they make.

READ ALSO Five minutes with Sophie Stott, Miss Van’s Vietnamese restaurant

What are your top 3 recipe tips?
Fresh ingredients are the most important thing, then it’s good preparation. The third would be getting the right food to the right person. Food is about enjoyment, so you shouldn’t force a flavour on anyone. Instead, you should meet them where their preferences are, and challenge their taste buds from there.

Anything else you want to say?
I wish there were more food trucks in Braddon like there were before COVID. I hope the local authorities can come together to organise an environment that will help others start food trucks because I believe they are the best way to reflect the diversity of Canberra’s community and culture.

food truck opening hours

Little Phat Rolls opening hours (worth working your travels around). Photo: Supplied.

Little Phat Rolls is located on the kerbside of 17 Lonsdale St, Braddon. It’s open every day except Monday.

Follow Little Phat Rolls on Facebook and Instagram.

Original Article published by James Day on Riotact.

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