Growing up, I always felt like an ‘other’, like someone who didn’t belong at the local primary school in her wealthy predominantly Anglo-Saxon neighbourhood. The only reason I was there after all, was because my parents ran a takeaway shop in the area, and we lived in a apartment above the shop…a far cry from my schoolmates who went home to sprawling four bedroom houses with three bathrooms, two living areas, large gardens and a pool in the backyard.
It’s only as I’ve gotten older and started seeking out stories from other migrant children that I’ve realised I wasn’t so special after all. Reading the work of authors like Benjamin Law and Alice Pung and watching shows like The Family Law and Fresh Off The Boat has made it clear that my experience and all the associated feelings of inadequacy are very common to the experience of Growing Up Asian in Australia (which coincidentally, is a fantastic book).
I’m starting to learn to embrace my Chinese heritage. I learnt Mandarin in university, I seek out books about Chinese history, I read articles about modern China. I’ve told K that I intend on giving our children Chinese names, and of course, they’ll also have to attend Chinese school on the weekends no matter how much they protest.
The most immediately rewarding aspect is of course, embracing all that’s to love about Chinese food in all its different varieties! Our whole family recently met up with my aunt and uncle in one of their new local favourites – Tasty BBQ Chinese Cafe in Bentleigh.
Bentleigh may not be the first suburb you think of when you think of Chinese BBQ meats. Other suburbs like Glen Waverley, Box Hill or Springvale might pop into mind instead. However, don’t let its location f0ol you, there’s a reason this little BBQ shop is a new favourite for my very picky and discerning extended family.
My family are greeted by name as we enter the cafe, and my father promptly orders some serves of different roast meats for the whole table to share. The Crispy Roast Pork has a wonderfully salty and crunchy crackling, though I find the meat itself a bit too fatty. The standout here is the house-made Roast Spiced Sausage which is equal parts savoury, sweet and spicy, and the perfect weekend indulgence.
Forget the pork and the sausage for a moment. If you’re dining alone or as a couple and can only justify ordering one serve of roast meat, the Roast Duck is the way to go. We started off with a half serve as shown in the above photo, before quickly demolishing the plate and ordering another half a duck. My family rhapsodises lyrical about its virtues – the glistening succulent skin, the tender and juicy meat, the sweetness of the paired sauce. My aunt claimed that it was as good if not better than any roast duck she’s had in Hong Kong, so that’s pretty high praise indeed!
While we would normally a number of main meals and share them, the whole family was coming down with a cold and so we decided to order individual meals so as not to share the germs around. Dad chose the Dry Beef Ho Fun, complete with plenty of wok hei, fresh crunchy bean shoots, and smoky slippery rice noodles. A very simple dish that wasn’t particularly generous with its serving of beef, so it is worth ordering the roast meats on the side.
K ordered the Beef Brisket and Wonton Noodle Soup. The braised and slow-cooked brisket was particularly tender and tasty, clear evidence of the restaurant using a better quality of beef than you would normally find in a neighbourhood Chinese restaurant. The wonton too were nice and plump, with a hearty pork and prawn mix.
Recognising that I’d had more than enough meat with the roast duck, pork and sausage, I chose to have a vegetarian main – Vegetable and Bean Curd Noodle Soup. This proved to also be a good choice as I was nursing the start of what would end up being a cold that lasted a fortnight – the extra nutrients offered by the green veggies, mushrooms and carrots hopefully helped to give my immune system a boost! A simple noodle soup that was very satisfying.
My brother decided that he needed more roast meat, so he chose the BBQ Sweet Pork on Rice. The quality of this BBQ pork was just as high as the other roast meats, and I do have to give a special shout-out to the chef whose knife skills created these sliver-thin slices of BBQ pork. As my family debated at length, the thickness of BBQ pork slices does impact its overall quality. It’s rare to find BBQ pork sliced as thinly as this, and it really does make a difference.
My aunt chose the Stir Fried Rice Noodle with Beef…or more accurately, she had originally chosen the noodles with beef brisket, but it came out with simple beef slices instead. She was a bit disappointed that she didn’t get the tender beef brisket she originally wanted, but the thick and flavourful gravy of this beef noodle dish soon soothed any disappointment she may have had.
As I mentioned earlier, Bentleigh is not a suburb I would normally venture to for good Chinese BBQ. Tasty BBQ Chinese Cafe is certainly strangely located in the Aldi shopping complex in a blink-and-miss-it location right at the end of the long Centre Road shopping strip. Do yourself a favour though – don’t blink and miss it, and instead, make a specific point of seeking it out the next time you’re in the neighbourhood. You’ll have some of the best Chinese roast duck you’ll ever have in your life!
Tasty BBQ Chinese Cafe is located within the shopping centre at 285-305 Centre Road, Bentleigh.