Maria Ha’s lifelong passion for food was instilled in her from a very early age, watching her mother Diem whip up all manner of gorgeous Vietnamese fare in their Carbramatta home.
Now, Maria has parlayed that passion into HaHa’s – Merewether’s newest eatery which has been trading as a pop-up style eatery operating out of the Uniting Church Hall on Glebe Road.
And it’s a family affair, too with Maria bringing Diem (or Mama Ha as she has become known around the kitchen) along for the ride.
“For me growing up, mum’s food was really important. We are originally from Sydney and mum came over with the rest of the family when she was 19 and we were based in Cabramatta,” Maria told Newcastle Live.
“When I go out there are particular things I will never order in a Vietnamese restaurant because I just know that mum’s is so much better and I thought there was an opportunity here in Newcastle to bring a little bit of Cabramatta and mum’s food here.”
With the plan set in motion, Maria set about finding a suitable Newcastle location to house HaHa’s.
Then COVID hit.
Luckily Maria was able to secure the commercial kitchen at the Merewether Uniting Church Hall from which HaHa’s has been operating as a ‘pop up’ every Friday and Saturday night.
This also entailed a bit of a rethink when it came to the traditional restaurant model. To that end, HaHa’s operates on a pre-order basis, meaning that orders need to be placed on the Wednesday for that Friday or Saturday.
“It’s not your normal model and that allows us to cook exclusively those meals that are ordered so we’re not mass producing,” Maria said.
Almost demanding repeat visits, the menu changes from week to week and is built around two core “signature” dishes – Bún thịt nướng (Grilled pork, spring rolls & vermicelli noodles) and Phở Bò (beef rice noodle soup) or Phở Gà (chicken rice noodle soup)
“The menu changes changes slightly from week to week and gets updated on either a Sunday or Monday,” Maria said.
“We try and keep our two core dishes and then around that we do a mix of different entrees and desserts to try and slowly educate our customers who havent really eaten vietnamese food or who usually eat the common stuff.
“It’s about having the common stuff that people love and know that it’s there to order and also an element of experimenting and encouraging people to go out of their comfort zone a little bit.”
Maria added that the secret in the HaHa’s menu was an unwavering aderance to authenticity and freshness.
“Mum’s not about shortcuts,” she said. “She’s very particular about what she cooks, what ingredients she uses and what processes are in place.
“For example I told her that we can just buy roasted salted peanuts and she insists on peeling, roasting and salting them herself.”
HaHa’s is located at 178 Glebe Road, Merewether. Head here for more information and to place those orders