We’re calling it: Ms Ba Co is home to the best banh mi rolls in Canberra
It’s not uncommon for people to stop and stare as Ms Ba Co staff go about the business of preparing the city’s best Vietnamese street food – from pickling white radishes to stirring a mammoth pot of pho (noodle soup).
The Majura Park Shopping Centre eatery was built with “a lot of glass, windows and preparation benches out front” so people could literally watch the technique behind the making of the food, including Canberra’s best banh mi rolls.
It’s a technique that’s rare.
Ms Ba Co joint owner Elsa Do learnt to cook in the Imperial city of Hue, in central Vietnam, and brings a touch of Vietnamese ‘royalty’ to her preparation of the dishes on the Ms Ba Co menu.
“It’s the same banh mi roll but the taste and the ingredients are slightly different to make it better,” Elsa’s husband Richard Ho, joint owner of Ms Ba Co, explains.
“And the same with our soup too, we make it a little bit different. The south people like their food very sweet, the north people less sweet, and the middle part of Vietnam is more strong and tender.
“We have all of those influences. Elsa loves cooking and she does it from her heart, that’s the main key.
“Anything you serve the people, you need to do with ambition, love – if you put love in there people feel it.”
Aside from love, Ms Ba Co’s banh mi rolls are packed with a choice of pork meatballs, crispy pork belly, grilled lemongrass chicken, grilled pork chop, beef or tofu and topped with carrot, coriander, cucumber, shallots, red onion and white radish. The banh mi rolls leave your lips tingling, but “it’s nothing” compared to how hot the Vietnamese like their food, according to Richard.
A refugee from just outside of Ho Chi Minh City, Richard arrived in Melbourne with his family in 1980. He was 15 and learnt English quickly, becoming the face of the family’s Vietnamese-Chinese blend restaurant Thy Thy on Victoria Street, Richmond.
“Mum was a wedding caterer in Vietnam and we brought with us a different way of eating – a lighter approach to food,” Richard recalls.
“It’s the climate in south-east Asia – it’s so hot that we eat small, fresh meals often. Things like a lot of meat and cheese are just too heavy.
“Australians really embraced that back in the 1980s and even more so today.”
He’s not wrong. To manage the long line of public servants, military and other nearby workers at Ms Ba Co each day, Richard brings in uni students for three-hour shifts across the lunchtime rush. And each has been taught to construct a delicious banh mi roll in 15 seconds.
While the food is adored by Canberrans, it’s actually Elsa and Richard’s daughters – Isabella, 11, Sophia, 10, and Star, 8 – who are Ms Ba Co’s harshest critics. (The eatery is named after the daughters – Ba Co means ‘three little girls’ in Vietnamese.)
The young trio is often front and centre at the eatery, peeling carrots and buttering rolls, having inherited their mother’s deep love of food and cooking. The girls have high standards and if the food’s not up to scratch, they’ll call it out.
“They’ll tell Elsa if something’s too bland or doesn’t taste right,” Richard laughs.
“They’ll say, ‘Mum! You missed something!’ and they’re generally always right.”
Ms Ba Co is open everyday from 8am-7pm, in the Majura Park Shopping Centre food court.