The Queen of Rice Paper Rolls

Tue 25 Mar 2014 @ 15:51
Author Jamie Magazine

Nga ‘Nahji’ Chu is the founder and creative director of MissChu, the Vietnamese tuckshop bringing a modern flavour to traditional street food.

Born in Laos with Vietnamese heritage, Nahji and her family escaped the Pathet Laos Regime in the 1970s and became some of the first Vietnamese/Laotian refugees to settle in Australia – a turn of events that is now an integral part of the MissChu story. The company began as a Sydney catering business in 2007, with the first tuckshop-style café opening in Darlinghurst in 2009, offering cheap, cheerful traditional dishes with a contemporary twist. Today there are several branches in Sydney and Melbourne, and the first international MissChu tuckshop opened in London's Whitechapel last year. We asked Nahji to give us her low-down on Vietnamese food:

Q: What is your signature dish?
The tagline for my business is ‘queen of rice paper rolls’ and I think my signature would be my tiger prawn and green mango rice paper roll. It's a combination I invented from the leftovers from my fridge, however now it's seen by many as a traditional Vietnamese staple! I even have customers coming to me saying that they couldn't find it when they went to Vietnam. In addition, my beef vermicelli salad is one of my biggest sellers and I've become well known for it in both Australia and London – this one really is a staple Vietnamese salad.

Q: What are the key elements of Vietnamese food?
A Vietnamese dish will usually have key ingredients such as fish sauce, palm sugar, lemon juice, fresh chilli and vinegar. Those are the foundations of most Vietnamese dishes – just like olive oil and salt is to an Italian dish. A typical meal will usually consist of rice, a green (eg: sautéed water spinach), a simple clear broth soup, and a protein (eg. steamed fish).

Q: What do you think more people should know about Vietnamese cuisine?
Opening my first store in London at the end of last year I realised that a lot of Londoners never have Vietnamese food… They were really reluctant to leave their standard lunches of sandwiches and bread. As well as a more general understanding of what Vietnamese food is, there are many other interesting facts that very few people know: eg. that fish sauce comes from various presses. The first press (the one exclusively used at MissChu) is called nhi and is much less pungent on the nose and fuller in flavour, with a longer depth on the palette. Most people are only familiar with fish sauce from the third press – in comparison, this is much saltier in flavour, and shorter and sharper on the palette.

Q: What makes MissChu different?
My point of difference is that although my food is traditionally Vietnamese, I've taken out the elements that my corporate clientele are averse to, such as MSG and garlic – neither appear anywhere in my dishes. I also use premium cuts of meat such as chicken breast and eye fillet – these are all free range and from sustainable suppliers who I visit on a regular basis. Also, my brand has a very strong personal and political message: I have used my refugee visa as my logo to clearly demonstrate to the world that Vietnamese food has a historical context and I wanted to tell a story with my food. MissChu is a conversation about the Vietnamese identity in the west.

Q: What is your personal all-time favourite meal?
The MissChu vermicelli beef salad. It's light, clean, healthy, full of protein and can also easily be assembled into a rice paper roll. It gives you energy for the day, without feeling stodgy and you can have it as a main course or a starter. For me it's ideal as it's fast, efficient and versatile. This is my super food!

For more information about MissChu, check out misschu.co.uk

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