Viet Van, East Dulwich

October 30, 2011


Viet Van Banh Mi

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.

Viet Van
Saturday’s at North Cross Road
East Dulwich

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  • Reply fourstar October 30, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    Heh, asking parents with kids to give E Dulwich a wide berth is like asking bankers not to congregate in Canary Wharf. It’s not known as Nappy Valley for no reason 🙂

    Haven’t tried one of these yet, always end up at Dogfatherdiner!

    • Helen
      Reply Helen October 30, 2011 at 3:21 pm

      Yep, that’s what I usually do! These are delicious though.

  • Reply Sharmila October 30, 2011 at 2:44 pm

    Oh, that looks fab! I walk past Viet Van so often and I never ever buy. I must rectify that.

    I’m with you on the kids thing. I have no issue at all with children being about, but there appears to be this collective belief that they should be indulged to be able to do whatever they want, wherever they are. I think about where my best mates live in Spain, and there are always kids about, well into the late evening, out with adults. But you just don’t get the same interaction and behaviour, most of the time.

    Anyway, yes, North Cross Road market has some wicked places (including my beloved G.G. Sparkes). I also really like Moo Town for Welsh cheeses. Their Perl Wen, goat curd and Welsh cakes are all lovely.

    • Helen
      Reply Helen October 30, 2011 at 3:22 pm

      I’m a massive fan of GG Sparkes too -so much better than W Rose in my opinion. I too have no problem at all with kids being about but it’s just that attitude. It’s unbelievably insular.

  • Reply Rich October 30, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    Helen, I do believe that you’re making the problem worse. Intelligent, erudite reviews of the best spots in the area are only going to speed matters up. If the queue is longer the next time I go down there I’ll know who to blame…

    Oh, and regarding the kids, bang on…


    • Helen
      Reply Helen October 30, 2011 at 4:13 pm

      Ha ha ha ha ha! Shit. That’s not what I wanted, is it.

  • Reply Mr Noodles October 30, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    That pork looks damn good! As does the little scooter-van, which is probably smaller than the behemoth tank-like buggies that clog up the pavements of East Dulwich. And yes, it ain’t the kids’ fault, it’s the bloody parents…

    • Helen
      Reply Helen October 30, 2011 at 4:21 pm

      You know what, that van almost IS smaller than those effing buggies!

  • Reply Lizzie October 30, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    I hear ya on the kid front. Luckily New Cross doesn’t have the Smug Mum Brigade yet.

    I’ve never seen this kind of slow-cooked pork in a banh mi; looks lovely. I had a banh mi same time as you from Panda Panda and it reignited my love for them.

    • Helen
      Reply Helen October 30, 2011 at 5:03 pm

      No, I’ve never seen it either. I’ve seen shredded caramel pork and this is similar but softer. Mmmm melty.

    • Helen
      Reply Helen October 30, 2011 at 5:03 pm

      Also, I must try Panda Panda!

  • Reply Gary @ The Greedy Fork October 30, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    I wish we had vendors like this up here in Liverpool. If we do have any they’re keeping quiet.

  • Reply adam and theresa October 31, 2011 at 12:36 am

    Looks great and we love your attitude & your blog, it makes us reassured about moving into the area in general when we are back in UK in February, can’t wait to try it out.

  • Reply David October 31, 2011 at 9:23 am

    The Banh Mi looks completely delicious, although I agree that East Dulwich can be off-puttingly full of massive buggies, hatchet-faced mothers and mewing kids called Oscar or Ruby. And I say that as a parent and (no doubt) perpetrator of all sorts of thoughtless smuggery.

    The eternal question: can smug entitled parents and smug entitled non-parents ever accomodate each other? Is it about keeping some spaces childfree? How could that be enforced? Collective tutting? Or is it about keeping children under tighter control? But are middle-class English children really more badly behaved than any other equivalently aged gangs of yowling tots? They have annoying English accents, granted, but it seems a bit mean to hold that against them. In the fabled mediterranean paradises mentioned above I suspect the more relaxed atmosphere is at least partly to do with other adults not going into an immediate seething rage when a child squeaks about not wanting its chips or darts past dangerously close to your shopping.

    This is maybe a little bit snarkier that I’d intended. I really do find kids in adult places problematic, and yet I have a child and want to go to East Dulwich with her and eat delicious Banh Mi. Maybe we should divide up the weekend? We’ll take Sunday and endure the hell of each other’s buggies, and you lot can have Saturday and live high on the hog until the sun goes down.

    • Helen
      Reply Helen October 31, 2011 at 12:35 pm

      Hi David, snark away! This is not a rant against parents and children in general but just a rant about the attitude of SOME of the ED gang. A light hearted rant, of course…I think however that collective tutting is the obvious solution. That should keep them in line.

  • Reply Ophélie October 31, 2011 at 11:32 am

    Just love it!

    I urge my friends to read your blog when they claim the British have no “food culture” – did I mention I’m French?

    Perhaps the little brats would be better behaved if they were fed banh mis?

    • Helen
      Reply Helen October 31, 2011 at 12:36 pm

      Excellent, I am very pleased to have a French ambassador! To say we have no food culture is definitely a very outdated view nowadays, good job you’re there to tell them otherwise! I think the brats would definitely be better behaved if we stuffed banh mi in their mouths – would keep them quiet for a while anyway. Extra chilli on that one…

  • Reply Leahahaa October 31, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    That slow cooked pork looks scrumptious…shame we dont have anything like that here in the shire (that I know of) maybe a gap in the market there..especially as a rival for falling out a pub/club at closing time!

    Going to have to get some slow cooked pork on the go this week now! mm mm mmmmm!!

    Love your site, you’ve racked up so many good articles and recipes now!! X

    • Helen
      Reply Helen October 31, 2011 at 12:37 pm

      Aww thanks mate! Very lovely to see you on here. Slow cooked pork – how can it ever go wrong?! xx

  • Reply Brighton Restaurants October 31, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    Wow! This roadside food stall seems interesting. Would love to try the yummy eatables.

  • Reply Zemmy October 31, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    I’ve never had a banh mi, but they look and sound delicious – especially the way you describe the slow-cooked pork. Any ideas of a recipe for this?

    • Helen
      Reply Helen October 31, 2011 at 1:25 pm

      Hi, yep, you’ll find one under the recipes tab, in the sandwiches section. I used SPAM for mine but that was as a bit of a joke and you can use any meat you like instead and then use the recipes for the accompaniments.

  • Reply Jim October 31, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    “Slow cooked pork – how can it ever go wrong?” I think that’s actually an inspirational idea for a food challenge. Can you f___ up slow cooked pork?

    • Helen
      Reply Helen November 1, 2011 at 8:02 am


  • Reply The Grubworm October 31, 2011 at 8:36 pm

    Man, as a resident in Stoke Newington, I hear you re the buggies. Add that to pavements barely three feet wide…well, you can imagine. Buggy rage is a real risk if you venture out on a saturday morning. And I have been the recipient of steely glares over the handle bars of 4WD buggies as I squeeze as close to the wall as I can to get out of the way 😉

    That said, looking at that pork, it would be a risk I’d willingly take if the Viet Van ever ventured north of the river. Until then I guess I’ll just have to get down to Broadway market where hipsters replace the kids in the crowded pavement stakes.

    • Helen
      Reply Helen November 1, 2011 at 8:01 am

      They’re everywhere! Totally worth a visit if you ever find yourself down here in the wild, wild Sarf.

  • Reply Ophélie October 31, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    C’est un honneur

    Yep, thank God I spent two years in the UK and realised you guys really know how to rock your tastebuds!

    *Must repress Welsh rarebit craving right now. Or not*

  • Reply SYlvia November 1, 2011 at 9:19 am

    The Bahn mi looks great – I don’t know why I ‘ve never tried it. Always seem more tempted by the Dogfather or Mother’s Dumplings, but I might give it a go, having seen the piccies and read your description!

    As far as the prams go, talking as an East Dulwich mum, I think that the parents who do get on your nerves, would have done so even if they didn’t have any children. They are just inconsiderate people, parents or not – I blame their parents! 🙂 I do know what you mean though, but I also know that I try my best not to get in peoples’ way when out with my baby and pram…

    Anyway, might be heading to North Cross for some Viet Van action this Saturday. Thanks for pointing it out!

    • Helen
      Reply Helen November 1, 2011 at 9:24 am

      Yes exactly, I don’t have it in for every person with a child, just a certain kind of ED breed.

  • Reply Nick November 1, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    Hi Helen,

    Do you know how I can get in touch with this wonderful gentleman that runs Viet-Van?

    • Helen
      Reply Helen November 1, 2011 at 12:57 pm

      Hi Nick, I would suggest getting down there on a Saturday or drop me an e-mail on e-mail above.

  • Reply Sarah November 3, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    Hey Helen- this chap sounds delish.

    Totally hear you on the kids front, was just this weekend having a little rant myself. Was in Peckham actually! The Rye was almost as full of under-3s as sister pubs the Florence or the Victoria.. All I wanted was a quiet Saturday pint! Every damn local pub across the Smug Mum region is so overwhelmingly kid friendly they’re actually adult-sans-kids unfriendly 🙁 Woe is me 😉 Beer at home it is!

    • Helen
      Reply Helen November 3, 2011 at 12:40 pm

      Yes that’s the problem. It’s all very lovely that places are kid friendly, but then that’s basically excluding a lot of other people. Where do we go for a quiet pint any more?

  • Reply Sarah November 3, 2011 at 12:46 pm

    There are slim pickings locally… But, I actually popped into the new Brixton Electric Social and it wasn’t half bad. Nice ale. No yelping kids in sight.

    • Helen
      Reply Helen November 3, 2011 at 12:49 pm

      Ooh lovely, thanks for the tip! We should open a non-kid friendly pub – we’d clean up.

  • Reply Marcus November 4, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Mmmm top looking pork, will have to give this place a go – assuming I can get near it for all the bloody drooling, braying food bloggers blocking up the market…

    • Helen
      Reply Helen November 4, 2011 at 2:26 pm

      Are you an ED father, Marcus?!

  • Reply Mike Croft December 10, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    You are Bang on about the less than yummy mummies and their evil spawn!!!!

  • Reply Will June 2, 2012 at 10:56 am

    It’s an area people with kids have gravitated to because of the amenities, schools and community. All the negativity about kids I find really depressing. As grown up kids, how have we become so detached from the younger versions of ourselves. It’s all so negative and mean spirited.
    Helen, you do a great job of confirming the modern selfish phenomenon of people that don’t have kids because it would mean sacrificing some of the precious time they spend self obsessing and updating their Facebook profiles……and rather unimportant blogs……
    And yes, I now have a child….but I spent most of my life without one and managed to meet the incredible challenge of living alongside those that did.

  • Reply Sam May 19, 2013 at 11:48 am

    Has Viet Van changed hands, not seen David Parkin for some time and the quality of the bagettes has gone very down hill, hugely disapointed 🙁

    • Helen
      Reply Helen May 19, 2013 at 5:03 pm

      What? I’ve no idea sorry, I haven’t been for a while but I shall investigate!

  • Reply Daniela January 23, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    Where are you guys??? I wanted to have one of those sandwiches last Saturday (ED) and you weren’t there!! Are you coming this Sat.?? Please come and bring the lovely pumpkin soup with you!!!

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