District 1 isn’t from the Hunger Games, but from the central area of Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam, which is where the owner is from.
I’d been seeing pictures of food flash across the social media feed, and wondered if it was just hype. There tends to be a bit of built-up buzz around new places, and there is a degree of orchestration now that didn’t use to exist. Brisbane too, is becoming subject to waves of popular food. For a while it was Mexican, then American, and then Vietnamese and Malaysian too (Malaysian may be more a rising thing in Sydney and Melbourne currently, but it will eventually drift here, I’m sure.).
Brisbane has seen banh mis and dumplings. So what is new, and what can be better?
Answer: this is different, and better.
District 1 has quite a central location for Asian food, being in Chinatown. The shop is actually off the main street of the mall though, and we did walk up and down a bit before we found it. It is indeed at the corner of Duncan Street and Ann street, but more on the Ann Street side than actually on Duncan Street. You’ll get it when you’re walking around.
There is a giant poster across one of the walls of one of the roundabouts in the city. I was reminded of when we were at that roundabout, trying how to work out how to traverse that junction from one corner to the other, without getting flattened by the interminable traffic. We were in fact, trying to get to a TripAdvisor rated food place at the time. Without traffic lights or even lines on the road, one just had to fake invincibility and step out, or be stuck at the same corner until the end of time. Fortunately, this is a destination easier to reach.
There were a few people there when we went in, just after peak dinner time on a weeknight. There are a couple of communal tables, and a few smaller ones. I expect it packs out at lunch time.
They have a food menu divided into street snacks, rice paper rolls, banh mi, salads, vermicelli salads, and pho. There is also a special that the owner told us rotates weekly. She also anticipates changing the menu items in time, so patrons get to try different Vietnamese food.
From the street snacks list, we ordered the spring rolls and crispy pork dumplings. We also ordered the crispy tiger prawns, which were a current special. As it turned out, those were all excellent choices. The items are all made in-house, and you can taste the difference in the freshness and flavours of the ingredients. These are no reheated frozen samplers.
The spring rolls have minced pork and prawns with real texture. Despite being deep fried, they aren’t oily. Just nicely crunchy.
The crispy pork dumplings look like little curry puffs, but have a hidden surprise of a quail egg, and some vermicelli.
Those potato noodle-wrapped prawns have been photographed many times now, and must be had before they go off the menu. The goodness of a crunchy potato chip and a well-cooked prawn, with the savoury tang of fish sauce to dip in.
We had already had banh mi earlier in the day, so didn’t try it this time, but I have seen pictures of the crispy skin pork belly that goes in them, and they will be had another day.
We ordered the beef pho instead, and could smell the flavour in it as soon as it reached the table. The owner told us that they make the soup stock themselves, and are supplied with beef bones and necessary bits by one of the butchers in Chinatown. Other places supplement their stock with chicken, but they only use beef there. You can taste the glutinous richness in the broth. It makes a properly hearty meal.
We didn’t have time (or space) for dessert, unfortunately, as it was already closing time, and we didn’t want to keep them back. We did, however, get a frozen coconut slushie at the very beginning of the meal, and I can definitely recommend that. There is the choice between lychee and pineapple, and we picked lychee. It is a blended ice drink, but with coconut water, and pieces of coconut flesh in it. It tastes properly like coconut instead of a diluted version, and wasn’t overpowered by lychee syrup-y sweetness at all.
The staff were absolutely lovely, and a number of times through the meal came around to ask us and other customers if we were enjoying the food. The answer was a resounding yes.
In summary, eat here. Also helps that District 1 is open late on Friday and Saturday nights. Late, as in after midnight, according to the webpage.
Price point: Street snacks $5-$7. Banh mi $8-$10. Pho $12-$14. Slushie $7.
Value: Very good.
Address: 7/8 Duncan Street, Fortitude Valley
Phone: 07 3252 2238
Website: District 1