Misschu’s reputation as the Rice Paper Roll Queen has meant that after just two weeks of opening, misschu underground already has a queue of hungry office workers craving a Vietnamese fix.
Known as Nahji Chu, Nga Chu is the owner of the successful misschu brand. What started as a humble tuckshop in Darlinghurst’s Bourke Street has turned into an Australia-wide franchise with shops now in Sydney and Melbourne. Her controversial and colourful outbursts has meant that Nahji’s face is regularly featured in the Australian media but, what is most interesting is her incredible story of how she became the woman she is today. After escaping the Pathet Laos Regime in 1975, Nahji and her family spent four years in Thai refugee camps before settling in Australia. After studying film and media, a future in the hospitality industry was a natural progression for Nahji as the Chu family already owned several Vietnamese restaurants in Melbourne.
The small, yet compact wooden hut that is misschu underground looks out of place in the squeaky clean surrounds of Regent Place. It’s like a glammed-up version of a hawker house, similar to the ones you would find in Asia, but for the notable lack of MSG and ninety percent humidity. White chalkboard signs direct customers to two windows to “order here” and “collect here”. Adorning the ‘hut’s’ exterior, miniature takeaway boxes hang from pegs and bamboo rice holders are slung over wooden awnings. White plastic shuttlecocks serve as light bulb holders and black and white abstract portraits of Nahji Chu feature on the walls. It’s quirky and fun, and just where I want to be on a chilly Monday.
Feeling as though I’m back in primary school, I write my name at the top of the misschu form, tick the menu selections and then return it to the front office… er, I mean, “order here” window. This is the process at all misschu restaurants – fill out the form and then wait for your food – for both takeaway and inhouse. Scoring a seat at the restaurant’s bar, I notice Nahji Chu’s face staring back at me from the wall in front. All of a sudden I feel as though I’m back in Thailand, staring at photos of the King that are stuck on electricity poles and in every single restaurant and bar. It is nostalgic, in an eerie sort of way.
Despite the line, a yell from the waitress alerts me that my order has arrived. I scurry over to the “collect here” counter and retrieve my goods. The food is fresh and tasty, with plenty of variations on the menu. You can opt for rice and greens or vermicelli; duck, seafood or chicken; there’s salads or curries; rice paper rolls or dumplings. For Asian food lovers, misschu is a must. Oh, and if you’re iPhone’s low on battery, chargers hang from the walls, ready to refuel all your favourite gadgets.
Read more about misschu underground here