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July 16, 2015

Mamachau with Elaine Cheng

Elaine Cheng stops in to illustrate her way through the menu at Mamachau, where sisters Bich and Linh Nguyen are bringing some authentic Asian lunches to city dwellers.

  • Words and illustrations: Elaine Cheng
  • Photos: Liam Tang

When it comes to Asian cuisine, those who know and love their food will swear by the traditional restaurants in the North-western suburbs. But that didn’t stop two sisters from introducing some authentic flavours to city dwellers.


To see more of Elaine’s illustration and read more of her articles visit her blog – Fill Me In.

Visit Mamachau at 2/2 Pirie St, Adelaideon weekdays between 8:30 am and 3:30 pm. While you’re there, Elaine recommends you try the baos, rice paper rolls (Linh’s favourite), ‘HH’ laksa and Coconut-poached Chicken salad.

Whilst there, Elaine recommends you try the Bagel with Cream Cheese, Oven Baked Beans in a Roll (Adam’s favourite), Mashed Peas and Grilled Mushrooms with Haloumi (Dom’s favourite), Sweet potato burger (Dom’s other favourite), Dawn Patrol Coffee and Homemade Chai.

Meet Bich and Linh Nguyen, the owners of Mamachau, the store responsible from introducing the Asian Taco (also known as the ‘Bao’) to Adelaide.



While Bich and Linh were born and raised in Australia, their parents grew up in a completely different environment. Seeking escape from Vietnam during the war, they were given the option to start their lives in America, but “they came to Adelaide because they believed it would be more livable,” says Bich.

Perhaps this faith is what instilled in the girls a love for our city. “We love Adelaide. We don’t see it as a quiet small town. It has an amazing food culture, there’s new small bars in our alleyways, it has a great vibe and it’s not too fast paced. It’s a good balance to have in a city.”


Like many children who were born in Australia to Vietnamese refugees, there was a pressure growing up to achieve academic success. This approach was taken by many parents to protect their children from possible future hardships – the kind of things that they themselves had experienced.

‘We tried… Studying business and commerce degrees and degrees in science… but as we also worked in casual jobs in hospitality… We were always drawn to it,” say the sisters.

“Hospitality is different… There’s an energy, flexibility. It’s a fast paced and challenging environment; food is an outlet for our creativity and expression.”



Baos may be a popular snack on the menu among all the new Asian restaurants recently, but nothing beats the originals that started the trend.

“No one was doing baos at the time, so we wanted to be the first to introduce them,” Linh says. “Our idea was to celebrate the food that we grew up with… living in Australia, among different cultural influences… adding our own modern touch.”

Growing up in a primary school where the only Vietnamese children were themselves, Bich says their parents “would always try to Westernise the Asian lunches they had packed, so we could fit in with the other kids”.

“Making chicken schnitzel with rice boxes… or ham sandwiches but with pickled carrots like a Vietnamese roll.”

Baos: Korean style fried chicken (KFC), Grilled eel, Master stock pork belly - $3.50 each

Baos: Korean style fried chicken (KFC), Grilled eel, Master stock pork belly – $3.50 each

The sisters have learned to appreciate and embrace their background.  “Food is what keeps us connected to our heritage and culture.”

As you step inside Mamachau, you’ll see that the sisters pay homage to these fond memories: Asian fusion dishes that cross the boundaries between Eastern and Western cuisines.

“The Master Stock Pork Belly for example,” Linh says, “is reminiscent of a Vietnamese dish we grew up with called ‘Thit kho’ (Caramelised Pork).”

Traditionally served with hard boiled eggs, at Mamachau this meal is served with a silky 63 degree egg, a modern take on a much loved classic.


“The KFC bao is because our parents rarely let us go out to eat fast food when we were little,” Bich says as she runs through their menu. Further explaining that while growing up, their mum would fry up her own version of delicious crunchy fried chicken wings and serve it to the kids, calling it Mum’s KFC.

Even the cold rolls have somewhat of a modern twist. Flavours like Sashimi Tuna with Wasabi Mayo and Coconut poached chicken with green mango display the thoughtfulness and creativity used to show that you don’t have to stick to traditional flavours to be authentic.

“We try to bring the customers more exciting Asian options for lunch. The essence of a good Vietnamese cold roll is still there; fresh, light, healthy, with a play on textures,” says Linh.


And while customers have now embraced their approach, this wasn’t always the case.

After buying the small space on Pirie St, and renovating the place with the help of family and friends, they faced some initial reservations from the public.

“It was very difficult at the start,” Bich says, “Most people didn’t know what baos were, and were too skeptical to give it a try.” But, it was only a matter of time before, with the help of social media and word of mouth, trends started to change and many new restaurants offering baos on their menus.


With a genuine love for their humble little store, Bich and Linh Nguyen wish to continue their work and watch Adelaide grow.

“Owning a business gives you the freedom to go with your gut. Mamachau is definitely an expression of who we are,” they say.

‘HH’ laksa: rich spicy soup with rice vermicelli noodles, coconut poached chicken, prawns, and sweet tamago egg topped with coriander - $9.90

‘HH’ laksa: rich spicy soup with rice vermicelli noodles, coconut poached chicken, prawns, and sweet tamago egg topped with coriander – $9.90

Proud of what they have accomplished, the sisters aim to pursue more large scale catering through Mamachau in the future.

“We have a lot of ideas for the business, but we are still learning as we go. We are always looking for things that inspire us and hope to slowly build our family business.”

If you’re short on time or looking for a light and hearty meal, Mamachau have baos, rice boxes, cold rolls, laksa, and all your favourite Asian eats. Pop in and you’ll be served by two of the brightest and bubbliest sisters in town.



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