I must start by apologising to all local parents with young children because you will probably take offence to what I am about to say, which goes something along the lines of: get the hell out of East Dulwich or at least spread yourselves out a bit so I don’t have to fight my way into every shop and cafe and shout to hear myself speak over the noise of your precious little darlings (why do people let their kids scream and run around in shops and restaurants like its a crèche?) Let’s not forget those ankle biting, space invader buggies. How many times have they savagely scraped my Achilles tendon? How many times has no-one even apologised? Can you not just wait or deploy a spot of good old common courtesy rather than using your buggy as a battering ram? You can tell this makes me angry and I’m sorry but this is my blog and I can rant if I want to.
Anyway, there’s a point to this which is that North Cross Road in East Dulwich is home to a super little market which makes the trauma of venturing into the wilds of middle class smugsville totally worth it. There are no cupcakes and certainly no painted plates. There are only brilliant things, like The Dogfather and Viet Van.
The owner of the teeny canary yellow van is David Parkin, a man I warmed to immediately when he told me he lives in Peckham. His Viet Van t-shirt carries the message: “Viet Van – New York, Paris, Peckham.” I asked him why he doesn’t actually sell his banh mi in our ‘hood and his response was, “where would I do it?” He has a very good point. I think he’d do okay at the farmer’s market on a Sunday perhaps, but the footfall is nothing like that of East Dulwich, and I’m not even including the children.
I am rather fascinated by food carts and the way that everything is crammed in to make the most efficient use of space. I’ve worked in Petra Barran’s Chocstar van a couple of times which taught me a thing or two about not wasting a storage opportunity. The top of the Viet Van opens up to reveal various tubs of ingredients and a warmer/cooker thingy for the baguettes. A slow cooker full of pork sits on the back and a small BBQ at the side.
Obviously I chose the pork banh mi but there are caramelised chicken and mushroom and tofu options plus the choice of having a salad (‘Asian style slaw’ was one), with the banh mi filling on top. “For the carb-phobic East Dulwich ladies?” I sniped cynically. “Well, more for the gluten intolerant” he replied. Ah.
He begins the build with a baguette (not rice flour – apparently the only supplier he’s found is in Stoke Newington and they’re so overwhelmed with demand they can’t keep up) on to which he squeezes a line of lightly garlickly mayo, followed by a scarlet smear of Sriracha. The pickled radish and carrot tendrils come next, followed by coriander. The cucumbers are sliced thin and even, so they layer perfectly into the sandwich. Next, a foundation of crumbly pate followed by the main event: the pork. It’s stunning. Marinated in a salt, sugar and spice paste and heavily gingered, cooked all the way down to tender shreds. I could have stuck my face in that pot. The banh mi is devoured in minutes.
The amount of pork filling is incredibly generous, especially at £4 a pop. My only criticism is that I would like more chilli heat and coriander, but that’s easily rectified by asking for extra. At 1pm there was a queue down the road but by 2 I only waited 5 minutes – a little tip for you there. He’s popular for very good reason though and as a result, is looking for a permanent helper. Applicants, get yourself down to North Cross Road on a Saturday. Must like banh mi, street food banter and other people’s children.
Saturday’s at North Cross Road