Vietnamese Grill Bar (Or, The Case of the Spam Soup)

I’d like to dedicate this post to Cindy and Michael from Where’s The Beef, and all the other lovely food bloggers who were at the Where’s The Beef 1000th post celebration and got to hear the following frightening tale firsthand. Intrepid food bloggers, Ballroom Blintz salutes you! And hopes you never encounter a Spam Soup of your own.

You’re familiar with the Tuesday Ladies Who Lunch, now it’s time to introduce the Wednesday Lunch Crew. A bunch of my mates from work who all go to RMIT or Melbourne Uni (and occasionally some Monash blow-ins, who, being that I am a good Melbourne Old Girl, get a right royal dose of stink-eye, the cads) all meet up on a Wednesday for, wait for it… lunch.

Now, I wasn’t even going to blog about Vietnamese Grill Bar at all as, to be honest, we mainly go there on our Wednesday lunches because it’s convenient, not because the food is all that mind-blowing. There’s a couple of nice vegetarian dishes (I have a fondness for the vegetarian vermicelli because it comes with diced pieces of spring roll on top!), the lemon chicken is apparently very good, or I assume so because there are members of our party who order it every time we go, and they do a range of smoothies using fruits like custard apple and durian and avocado that I look forward to sampling each week. But really we go there because there’s big communal tables and the food comes out obscenely quickly (I mean it, obscenely quick. I have a suspicion there’s a TARDIS in the kitchen).

However, there was an incident  during our last visit that offered up an example of culinary oddness that I just had to share.

At Vietnamese Grill Bar the menu is pictorial, so generally it’s a a case of “oh, that looks nice”, point and there you go. The rest of us on this occasion had gone with our regular choices, but Muffin decided to be adventurous and try something new. She located on the menu a soup that brimmed with a plethora of vegetables and had the title ‘hot & spicy soup’, or something similar, and decided to go with it.

The kitchen performed it’s regular temporal time shift, in that Muffin’s meal arrived while she was still in the bathroom. Everyone at the table stopped talking and looked into the bowl.


Then, “Hmm,” said Bengel, looking perturbed. “That looks… interesting.”

There wasn’t any greenery to be seen, nor anything vegetabley. Big round disks of what looked disturbingly like Spam or strassberg luncheon meat  crowded the surface, floating on top of a thick, red slick of chilli-infused oily broth.

Muffin returned to discover everyone making faces at her meal. She made a pretty damn impressive face herself. “This doesn’t look anything like the picture!” She conferred with the waitress as to whether this was actually the right meal. The waitress was adamant that it was.

Muffin set her shoulders, as if to steal herself for a challenge. “Suppose I’d better eat it then.”

In Muffin’s words: “It was just the weirdest thing. There were no vegies to speak of, only meaty disks and some tempeh. I tried a bit of the meat, but it had such a fatty and processed taste and texture that I couldn’t finish and just ended up fishing around for tempeh, which surprising tasted alright. But the Spam combined with that thick red layer of oil on top just pushed everything a little too far into the flat-out gross category.” Lucky Bengel donated to her some of his battered squid, otherwise Muffin would have starved!

I am now completely fascinated as to discovering whether this was an authentic Vietnamese dish, or just something completely crazy whipped up by a chef after living far too close in proximity to a hole in the fabric of time and space. All my research has come up with so far is that apparently homemade spicy sausages in soup is quite common, but it’s a big jump from handcrafted sausage to Spam!

Vietnamese Grill Bar

305-307 Swanston Street, Melbourne

Edit 28/1/2011 – After disappearing behind a wall of newspaper for a few months, Vietnamese Grill Bar is apparently no more, and has been replaced by a restaurant called Tofu King. While according to a tweet by Where’s the Beef there’s little to no vegetarian action to be had at the pleasure of the soy monarch, there’s a terrible place inside me that hopes the Spam Soup is continuing to bewilder and terrify.

7 thoughts on “Vietnamese Grill Bar (Or, The Case of the Spam Soup)

  1. A dedicated post! You are kind. I’m glad this story has made it to print. 😀

    Also, my hastily (and poorly) composed photo of your knitted dalek has been much re-tweeted. Let your friend know that their craftiness and service to geekery has been admired all over teh interwebs!

  2. Hee, this isn’t the kind of story I could keep to myself! People need to know of such WTF-ery.

    I’m sure Kristen will be most pleased that her wooley creation has achieved online fame! I’m going to ask her where she got her pattern from and then post hopefully post the link on the Twooter, then everyone can create an army of squishy alien robots of doom!

  3. Hey there,

    I was just wondering if you wanted your blog to be part of, an awesome collection of Melbourne veg*n bloggers.

    If you’re in, we just take your RSS feed and add it to the site so that your posts are syndicated along with everyone else’s.

  4. duude. That sounds… wrong. Although I love hot and sour soup, so much so I have to consider it if it’s on a menu- I have to admit it looks kind of weird. When not done right, and can be even stranger- I had one in ny that was sort of the taste and texture of snot. BUT I can’t say I’ve ever had one with spam. That’s a new realm of weird. That said there’s a Korean soup dedicated to the wonders of spam (apparently it came about during the war, when Korean soldiers used spam as a meat substitute), and it actually makes spam taste good.

  5. I knew that Spam crops up in a few Asian cuisines thanks to American wartime influence, but this honestly just seemed crazy, not at all like the Spamified dishes I’ve seen previously. IT WAS THE SOUP THAT SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN!

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