169 Bourke St
|Opening hours||Dinner nightly|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Phone||0452 645 165|
I’ve heard it said by snarky locals and visitors alike: people in Melbourne love to queue up. Shoes, croissants, nightclubs – if there’s a queue, let’s get in it and see what’s at the end when we arrive. I usually have the opposite reaction. If I must stand in line to get something, it’s unlikely I want that thing.
But, occasionally, the reason for the line is valid. Sometimes, the thing at the end of the queue is so good – and so exclusive – that an hour spent standing on the footpath is a small price to pay.
If you’ve taken the tram along Bourke Street after 5pm in the past year, it’s likely you’ve seen just such a queue outside Nana Thai Style Hotpot and BBQ. The crowd is mainly young and mainly Asian, a demographic which might be more food-obsessed than any other in our gloriously diverse and food-infatuated city.
The line begins to form in the late afternoon every day for the 5.30pm opening; its presence alone was enough to pique my interest. What was behind the small storefront that you couldn’t get elsewhere without standing outside in the cold?
The answer is a fantastic hybrid of barbecue and hotpot called mu kratha or mookata that owners Nuttanan Lohayanjaree and Panta Thanapaisan looked for in vain when they moved to Melbourne from Thailand. Nana Thai was originally a pop-up, but Lohayanjaree and Thanapaisan opened the permanent location on Bourke Street in 2020. The queues were almost immediate.
The barbecue comes as a set for two people ($39), and includes a mix of meat and seafood – pork neck, pork belly, squid, prawns, pork liver – that you grill on a gold-domed barbecue heated from beneath with a gas grill. Around the dome is a well that’s filled with bone broth; a pot with extra broth comes on the side. How you proceed from there is entirely up to you. There are no instructions given by the efficient but rushed staff, and there’s really no wrong way to go about it.
Some prefer to grill their meat slowly and carefully, seasoning the grill with the hunk of pork fat provided, adding each element one at a time, allowing it to cook and swiping it through the broth and the provided sweet and spicy barbecue sauce, before moving on to the next protein.
Others cram as much stuff onto the grill as possible, moving it into the soup as it’s done, adding mushrooms and noodles and cabbage from a second platter to create a barbecue-hotpot amalgam, then scooping it into soup bowls before eating it. There’s a raw egg to add to the mix, and a spicy and tangy sauce to add to your soup bowl that’s shot through with onions.
Nana Thai also offers a straightforward hotpot for two ($39) that comes without the barbecue element. If you’re in the mood for soup and soup alone – and if you crave intestine and marinated chicken, which the barbecue doesn’t have, but the hotpot does – this is a lovely option. But there’s all manner of hotpot in Melbourne, and I probably wouldn’t wait in line just for the version at Nana’s. For a big group with people who are happy sharing, it’s a nice thing to add to the mix, though.
Nana’s also has a huge menu of Northern Thai dishes, most of them larbs, salads and soups of various sorts. If you don’t want the barbecue or hotpot and you don’t want to wait in line, these other dishes are available to pre-order and take away, as well as via various delivery apps.
They are mostly intensely spicy – prepared, as the menu warns, to Thai-taste heat levels. And they’re fantastic: raw blue crab and green papaya salad with fermented fish ($20) comes swimming in lime, fish sauce, chillies and funk.
The Mama tom yum soup ($20) is not the often-miserly offering found at your neighborhood Thai joint: broth with a few carrots and celery. Here, it combines instant noodles, deep-fried pork belly, prawns, calamari, pork balls and egg in a bright and fragrant bowlful.
The line might seem like a lot to deal with – even on a recent freezing Tuesday night at 6pm, the wait was over an hour – but the staff do everything they can streamline the process. Menus are handed out and orders taken while you’re standing on the street; By the time you make it to your stools and no-frills table, your food will already be waiting for you, the grill hot, the broth bubbling.
Stumbling out an hour later, full and happy, someone passing me nodded to the crowd and asked, “Is it worth the wait?” Without hesitation, I replied, “Absolutely.”
Vibe: Bright, colourful, crowded, utilitarian
Go-to dish: Barbecue set for two ($39)
Drinks: Soda, milk tea, a handful of basic beers
Cost: $39 for two, excluding drinks