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Ela's 'handheld' treats

Posted by: Ela Carte | 2 November, 2012 - 2:55 PM

With the warmer weather upon us, Ela Carte headed to three places which fell under the 'handheld' theme. Read her reviews of Wonderbao, Phat Brats and Nhu Lan.

Wonderbao – Shop 4/19-37 A’Beckett St Melbourne (or enter off Literature Lane)

Part of me wants to tell you how to find Wonderbao, but the other part can hardly remember how to do it. It’s very well hidden from A’Beckett St, so you’re probably better off heading down Little Latrobe St and then finding it via Literature Lane.

We love a little food joint that’s hard to find, and the hipper the better – Wonderbao fits the bill. No doubt already an old reliable for nearby RMIT students, it’s a simple operation with a funky interior and just as funky staff.

As you might have guessed, it’s all about the bao – those fluffy, white, doughy buns you often see at Yum Cha, and that are most often filled with a sweet BBQ pork mixture. Here, there are five savoury baos on offer, two sweet, and some very interesting “gua baos” – a Taiwanese version that’s something between a bao, taco and slider.


These are cheap, and they’re filling – the perfect snack on the run, which is lucky because you’re unlikely to get one of the five or so seats lining the small venue’s window. Plenty of options there, the Char siu bao (BBQ Pork) is just about as it should be, more dough than sweet meat but that’s so often the case. The thing to go for is without a doubt those gua bao, tasty little sliders that are fun to eat, and tasty as hell.

Roast pork belly comes with cucumber, pickled carrots and irresistible hoi sin sauce – the perfect sized snack.

Braised pork belly is a little more pungent, still enjoyable, just well and truly punctuated by the pickled mustard – then balanced again by sweet soy, crushed peanuts and lashings of coriander.

This is serious good value, baos cost between $1.70 and $3.20, the gua baos are $3.80. Two to three should well and truly do you for a quick lunch. Grab them in a takeaway box, and enjoy them in the sun in the nearest park.

Your drink choices won’t be up Burnso’s alley, F.O.B packet drinks, or house made soya milk (cold or hot).

Be warned – it’s cash only at Wonderbao.

Phat Brats – 320 Brunswick Street Fitzroy – www.phatbrats.com.au

You wanna talk dude food? This is the epitome of the stuff. It’s all about the brat here, dubbed the Honest Sausage, and I guess that’s pretty accurate.

Of course this is Melbourne, so the fillings are gourmet and the bricks are exposed, but at the end of the day this is good, filling meat and carbs with a terrific selection of flavours.

There are ten sausages on offer, plus two vego options and a po’boy for the seafood lovers. The Wagyu beef and black pepper comes with house gravy, a good raw coleslaw, some crispy shallots and horseradish cream that could’ve done with some more horseradish. The buns on offer are wholemeal, seeded or gluten free – the seeded was lovely and soft and while a good size the end product wasn’t too messy to eat.


Decent flavours for the beef, but it didn’t compare to the lamb and rosemary, which on appearances alone was worth it for the bright, fresh looking smashed minted peas on top. The sausage itself was much more flavoursome (with a bit of chilli for good measure), and it was well complemented by the fore mentioned greens, some coleslaw and crumbled fetta.

There’s always a dog of the month and this one was a fine offering with a sub-continental bent. The lamb sausage came with Bombay potatoes, mint chutney and raita. Tasty as hell – I loved it.


Sides almost outshone the main attraction, the fries are evil but deliciously so – if you’re going to disappoint yourself, do it properly – I did and ordered the BBQ bacon fries. Deadly.

To balance things out, the Superfood salad got a look in – heaven. Ridiculously healthy combination of quinoa, peas, feta, tomato and more – it took away the guilt factor, and tasted bloody good. Generous serve too, three of us ate some as a side, and I still took it home and fed two for dinner.

They’re not hot dog van prices, they’re gourmet sausage prices at $8.50 – 10 a pop. You can get meal deals with beer or soft drink for $17 or 15.

Nhu Lan – 116 Hopkins Street Footscray

I couldn’t do a week of quick, fun, handheld food options without going to one of my local favourites, Vietnamese bakery Nhu Lan – home of the west’s best Bahn Mi. It’s directly opposite the market, and there’s no doubt the ingredients are fresh – they churn through them so quickly they really have no choice.

Ordering is half the fun at Nhu Lan, or half the stress – depending on how aggressive you’re capable of being in a queue. All bets are off here – there are no rules, there is little etiquette. You enter, and slowly saunter your way to the front of the queue, elbows used in emergencies. No doubt there will someone at the front ordering 12 or so for a local office, and it’ll drive you nuts because you’ll get hungrier as you see them being put together.


Perfectly crisp baguettes are cut, slathered with margarine and sometimes pate depending on your choice, and then it’s a whirlwind of gloved hands, coriander, carrot, spring onion, cucumber and your protein of choice. I have to admit, yesterday was the first time I’ve ordered anything other than a BBQ pork roll, because I was embarrassed to come in and say I hadn’t tried anything else. The chicken is fine, the pork is divine.


They’ll ask if you want chilli, and your life is in your own hands. I like spicy food, I’m an adventurous gal, but it took me four visits to realise that I cannot handle that chilli. Ouch.

There’s rarely an occasion that I make it home without opening that paper bag and taking a bite, even if I’m not hungry when I arrive. And at $4 a pop, this is one of the best value lunches in town. 


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