Quaintly called "misschu Tuckshops" Peter and I stumbled upon this delightful Vietnamese eatery after yoga one day. Tucked away inside a tiny arcade next to uber-cool fashion boutique Tuchuzy on Gould Street (which I had written about on Page 71 of my book), I had failed to spot it. But discoveries like these are never too late - we were drawn to the modern Asian-hawker feel of its rustic wooden tables and box benches underneath oversized umbrellas on the footpath. Grabbing a table and seating ourselves down, we were approached in seconds by a gracious Swedish waitress who helped us navigate the "misschu" menu -which incidentally included such delicacies as rice paper rolls, dumplings, warm and cold vermicelli salads and wagyu beef pho - and promptly took our order.
After studying the “misschu” menu, I was captivated by more than just the food. Stamped on the cover was the Refugee Visa for the Chu family, who had arrived into Australia from Bangkok in 1978. Remembering my own family's migration into Australia in 1976, I was hungry to learn more of their story. But that would have to wait. I had other priorities that moment, like the steaming bowl of wagyu beef pho that had been placed in front of me. My taste buds were bursting with anticipation and I was not disappointed.
After arriving home, I Googled the "misschu" story. What I read was as heartwarming as the flavours of their pho:
Nahji Chu, sole owner of "misschu", was born and raised in Luang Prahbang, Laos in 1970. Suffering through the Pathet Laos Regime, she and her family escaped to Thailand in 1975, where they lived for four years in refugee camps. Nahji's family supported itself in the refugee camp by selling food, with her mother making desserts and her auntie making chicken and beef soups. In 1978, the Australian government finally gave the Chu family permission to migrate to Australia, making them one of the first Vietnamese /Laotian settlers. The first realization that hit Nahji when she arrived in Australia in the 70s was how shocking the food was: everything was either tinned or frozen.
While life in Australia had its fair share of cultural struggles for the Chu family, they nevertheless made the most of the opportunities that it provided. Catering for other people as a way to earn extra income while at school, Nahji studied environmental science at Melbourne University. With her interests lying in fashion and film, however, she deferred her university studies to work for independent fashion designers on Chapel Street without pay - she was just eager to learn. She soon discovered that she was good at, and enjoyed, working with her hands, thus leading to work as a a seamstress. Eventually, a downturn in independent fashion and retail threw Nahji into waitressing, and eventually, catering.
With the Chu family’s background in food and catering, Nahji's decision to open and run her own business in 2005 was a natural transition. After opening the first “misschu” branch in Bourke Street Darlinghurst in 2009, she opened other branches in the Opera Kitchen at the Opera House in 2010, Exhibition Street in Melbourne in 2011, and Sydney's Bondi Beach.
Best described as a modern day hawker takeaway with high end food at a low price tag, the “misschu” concept has been designed for the modern eater on the go. Offering home or office delivery in Sydney and Melbourne CBD, their service is described in their website under the delightful sendup of "You ling, we bling."
When asked how she did it all, Nahji Chu answers without hesitation, "This business was all done with my own money. No bank loan. The secret to my success is good staff and paying them accordingly."
Known as the "Queen of the rice paper rolls", Nahji Chu is the quintessential Australian migrant success story. Arriving into this country with very little, she harnessed what was best of her culture, and with drive and determination, turned what she loved into a tangible reality for others to enjoy. Miss Chu, we salute you.