Hey carrot fans, are you sick of getting stuck with the token vegetarian dish on a menu? Take a seat, then, buddy, cos you’re about to go weak at the knees. At An Lac, you can bask in an entire menu of options that will create a foreign sensation known as menu indecision – yep, that’s 60 different Vietnamese dishes to choose from, and not a vegetable stack to be seen.
Even if you’re not a vegetarian, there are plenty of interesting things to explore – especially when there are mentions of prawn, beef and barbecue pork on the menu. The secret? They’re all made from gluten, a wheat-flour dough that is steamed, baked or fried to create all kinds of look-alike meat substitutes. If you don’t believe us, check out the takeaway boxes out the front – they’re the spitting image of soya-sauce chicken wings. It’s like magic.
Start with goi cuon prawn rice paper rolls (4 for $6) or get stuck in and roll your own ($18 for two people). You’ll score a mountain of fresh lettuce, bean sprouts, carrot, mint and perilla leaves that you roll up with vermicelli noodles and your choice of fried fish, barbecue pork, stir-fried beef or barbecue meatballs. Dunk your rice paper roll into some nuoc cham fish sauce dressing (vegetarian, of course) for extra sweetness.
On a Sunday lunchtime there’s a happy mix of Vietnamese grandmas and families and a few in-the-know Caucasian couples stopping in for a bite to eat. The décor is simple but clean, with lime-green walls and friendly staff sporting butter-yellow T-shirts emblazoned with the feel-good message “Be veg, go green, save the planet."
Com tam dac biet is a popular dish here. It's a vegetarian version of the traditional broken rice with three kinds of pork. It even comes with a vegan egg on top. Bun rieu is a commendable version of the original crab tomato soup. It’s a hearty tomato broth swimming with vermicelli noodles, tofu and fried gluten.
You can carb things up with the banh mi hap bi, a massive plate of steamed baguette slices, smothered in crisp-fried shallots, gluten strips, vermicelli noodles and crunchy peanuts. Check the fridge for vegan flan or yoghurt for dessert, and stock up on vegetarian fish sauce, stock and sauces in the little shop at the back.
And if you’re still not convinced, you can stick with the spring rolls. Always a winner.