When it comes to Asian cuisine, those who know and love their food will swear by the traditional restaurants in the North-western suburbs. Nevertheless, it didn't stop two sisters from introducing a taste of the East to the city dwellers.
Meet Bich and Linh Nguyen, the owners of the store that introduced the Asian Taco (also known as the 'Bao') to Adelaide.
While Bich and Linh were born and raised in Australia, their parents grew up in a completely different environment. Seeking escape from Vietnam during the war, they were given the option to start their lives in America. "They came to Adelaide because they believed it would be more livable." said Bich.
Perhaps this faith is what instilled the girls' love for our humble city. "We love Adelaide. We don't see it as a quiet small town. It has an amazing food culture, there's new small bars in our alley ways, it has a great vibe and it's not too fast paced. It's a good balance to have in a city."
Like many children who were born in Australia from Vietnamese-refugees, there was a pressure growing up to achieve academic success. An approach instilled by many parents to protect their children from possible future hardships. Things that they themselves have experienced as a result of the War.
‘We tried... Studying business and commerce degrees and degrees in science... but as we also worked in casual jobs in hospitality... We were always drawn to it. Hospitality is different… There’s an energy, flexibility. It's a fast paced and challenging environment; food is an outlet for our creativity and expression.’
Baos may be a popular snack on the menu among all the new Asian restaurants recently, but nothing beats the originals that started the trend. "No one was doing baos at the time, so we wanted to be the first to introduce them," Linh explained. ‘Our idea was to celebrate the food that we grew up with... living in Australia, among different cultural influences… adding our own modern touch.’
Growing up in a primary school where the only Vietnamese children were themselves, Bich began to recall, “Our parents would always try to Westernise the Asian lunches they had packed, so we could fit in with the other kids.”
‘Making chicken schnitzel with rice boxes... or ham sandwiches but with pickled carrots like a Vietnamese roll.’
The sisters have learned to appreciate and embrace their background. “Food is what keeps us connected to our heritage and culture.”
As you step inside Mamachau, you'll see that the sisters pay homage to these fond memories: Asian fusion dishes that cross the boundaries between Eastern and Western cuisines. "The Master Stock Pork Belly for example," Linh explained, "is reminiscent of a Vietnamese dish we grew up with called 'Thit kho' (Caramelised Pork)." Traditionally served with hard boiled eggs but at Mamachau, served with a silky 63 degree egg, a modern take to a much loved classic.
"The KFC bao is because our parents rarely let us go out to eat fast food when we were little," Bich commented as she ran us through their menu. Further explaining while growing up, their mum would fry up her own version of delicious crunchy fried chicken wings and serve it to the kids, calling it Mum’s KFC.
Even the cold rolls have some-what of a modern twist. Flavours like Sashimi Tuna with Wasabi Mayo and Coconut poached chicken with green mango display the thoughtfulness and creativity used to show that you don't have to stick to traditional flavours to be authentic.
Linh explained: “We try to bring the customers more exciting Asian options for lunch. The essence of a good Vietnamese cold roll is still there; fresh, light, healthy, with a play on textures.”
After buying the small space on Pirie St, and renovating the place with the help of family and friends, they faced some initial reservations from the public. "It was very difficult at the start," Bich admitted, "Most people didn't know what baos were, and were too skeptical to give it a try." Sure enough, it was only a matter of time with the help of social media and word of mouth, trends started to change with many new restaurants offering baos on their menus.
With a genuine love for their humble little store, Bich and Linh Nguyen wish to continue their work and watch Adelaide grow, "Owning a business gives you the freedom to go with your gut. Mamachau is definitely an expression of who we are."
Proud of the work they have accomplished, the sisters aim to pursue more large scale catering through Mamachau in the future. "We have a lot of ideas for the business, but we are still learning as we go. We are always looking for things that inspire us and hope to slowly build our family business.”
If you're short on time or looking for a light and hearty meal, Mamachau have baos, rice boxes, cold rolls, laksa, and all your favourite Asian needs. Pop in and you'll be served by two of the brightest and bubbliest sisters in town.
Recommended Items: Asian Tacos, Rice paper rolls (Linh's favourite), ‘HH’ laksa, Coconut poached Chicken salad
2/2 Pirie St, Adelaide SA 5000
Monday - Friday: 8:30 am - 3:30 pm
Credits to Liam Tang for the photos, thankyou!