Cabramatta’s vibrant culinary scene and Vietnamese restaurant Bau Truong were paid homage on the ABC series Back in Time for Dinner which follows the Ferrone family’s experience as they cook, eat and live through six decades of Australian history.
Ep 5 is set in the ’90s, a decade where “exciting” and “affordable” Asian dishes competed with a market saturated with pre-made packaged food and dull Australian meals. After going without European and Asian favourites, the Ferrone family welcomed some of Bau Truong’s bestsellers, including pho.
Journalist AnnabelCrabb introduces restaurant owner Michael Thai as a restaurateur who’s “titillated Australian tastebuds with the sweet, sour and spicy flavours of traditional Vietnamese cuisine since the 1990s”.
But the focus wasn’t just on food. Mr Thai spoke about his family’s interesting back story. He told the Champion his brother and sister first landed on Australian soil after a strenuous boat trip.
“My brother was 18 at the time and my sister 17,” he said. “It was the ’80s and a couple of days after they left, the boat’s engine failed so they drifted at sea for 40 days. They’d packed some sugar cubes as an emergency thing and were allocated a very small amount of fresh water but they managed to survive by chewing on some sugar. I can’t imagine myself being on that boat.”
He said after they arrived in Sydney they sponsored the rest of the family to come to Australia. “The immigration department allowed boat people to bring their families to Sydney back then. I feel like I’m living a life I couldn’t have imagined back when I came as a refugee. I could never have imagined the life of having an education, a career and being able to travel because in Vietnam they were completely closed to the outside world.
“If we stayed in Vietnam I wouldn’t have been able to go to school and we had friends who were sent to prison because they had a birthday party. Simple things like that which we take for granted here weren’t allowed. It’s different now and there’s a lot more freedom now but in the ’70s and ’80s it was very strict, a bit like North Korea.”
Mr Thai’s mother opened their first restaurant in Cabramatta in the ’90s. “In the ’90s we had a lot of boat people who just arrived and started setting up their lives. We had a lot of problems with gangsters and drugs.
“A lot of people swore to set up a life here like us. It used to be a place where people didn’t want to go but nowadays it’s a food destination. We’re renowned for our fresh food, exotic herbs and authentic Asian meals. Asian food is popular now. Today Australians travel so they’ve become more adventurous with their food.”
Mr Thai and his sister run four restaurants across Sydney, most of them based in the south-west. “The key to our success has been a combination of hard work and a bit of luck. We were lucky our family had opportunities.
“When the ABC and the family came it was a fun day to celebrate!”
The episode also featured a few funny moments, such as when the Ferrones’ youngest daughter Olivia picked a fish out of the tank, not knowing what it would be used for. “It was a funny moment. She named him Jeff! When we brought it out on a dish she was shocked.”
- Watch Back in Time for Dinner on iView.
- The final episode airs on the ABC tonight, July 10, at 8.30pm.