Hotel F+B

Vietnamese, at a restaurant near you


chef speak

chef Nguyen Viet Thang, Grand Hyatt, Saigon


Posted: Sunday, Sep 27, 2009

at 22:34 hrs IST


 text :
Suman Tarafdar

Indians plumping for Thai as the top South East Asian cuisine may have missed at least one worthy contender. Global consciousness about Vietnam, which in the last century became more known for the horrific war that tore the land apart, has only just beyond to go beyond. And a pleasant surprise has been its light and healthy cuisine, which is becoming popular in many countries.
























India had its first exclusive top end Vietnamese restaurant about five years ago, when Bangalore’s Taj West End opened Blue Ginger. About five years hence, the restaurant has found its second home in Delhi’s Taj Palace, where it opens on October 4. “We wanted to move away from the Chinese, and offer something novel,” says Executive Chef Rajesh Wadhwa. A note of caution. For clients expecting a continuum may be in for a shock, for this one is decidedly modern in cuisine and décor. There is no tiled pavilion, nor do frangipanis and waterfalls make their appearance. The 62-cover restaurant is in part of the space formerly occupied by the Tea House of August Moon, which had 150 covers. The rest of the space is taken up Palace’s first bar, Blue.

Spend a moment over the interiors. The design, done by Ed Poole of Singapore-based Poole Associates, has the French-Colonial touch. The furniture—Bespoke ‘Drouant’ Dining chairs reproduced from the 1920 Ruhlmann originals—catch your attention. The ceiling has cast bronze panels in the shape of snail motifs that appear as Buddha’s hair. Thousands of hands cut mirrors line the rear wall, fracturing the light from chandeliers. Artist Gagan Vij’s cast bronze sculpture of 56 fish adorns the wall in the main dining room. Arguably the most important striking element are the electric blue (they are of different color during the day) fibre optic chandeliers that represent rain ‘frozen in time’. The seating is divided into a 12-seater PDR (private dining room), which has a spectacular mother-of-pearl inlayed dining table topped by a beaded chandelier, four booths are raised on a platform and the tables inlayed with mother-of-pearl, and set on bronze legs.

The dishes on the menu are a contemporary take on the cuisine. “There is a set menu to help those unacquitainted too,” informs Sous Chef Gaurav Tandon. The food, designed by the group’s legendary head chef, Hemant Oberoi, is exotic but inviting, rich in fresh flavors .

The starters are delectable, especially the crispy taro prawn, which appears in a coating that resembles a bird nest! You aren’t likely to miss the salads, but watch out for pineapple carpaccio salad and the raw mango salad. There is considerable grilled section in the starters too. The Pho, unusually, has cherry tomatoes, perhaps a concession to the contemporary theme. Yes, there are options for vegetarians, though Vietnamese cuisine is usually prepared in fish stock. Look out for the basa, Vietnamese shark, and the more standard Chilean sea bass and soft shell crabs are options too. Average price for a meal for two—Rs 3, 200.

No, this is not a cuisine dominated by salads. The Vietnamese love their rice and noodles, soy sauce and crustaceans as much as their neighbors, thank you. But as you may have been realizing in your trips abroad, they are inordinately fond of their greens. Salads come in all shapes and sizes, and given the global penchant for healthier if not greener food, this is one cuisine that is unsurprisingly gaining grounds in global cities across continents. Saigon based chef Nguyen Viet Thang, who is in Hyatt, Delhi for a special offering of the cuisine describes the cuisine as the “freshest in Asia and surprisingly subtle”. And yes, there are spicy options from the south of the country, which have the potential to be next big cuisine in India, says the chef.

Vietnamese dishes are generally light in nature, using little fat, even in stir-fried food. The cuisine is known for the use of soy sauce, fish sauce, fresh herbs, rice, vegetables and fruits. It lays emphasis on fresh vegetables or herbs as side dishes accompanied with dipping sauce. Pork, chicken, cockles, chicken and seafood comprise the non-vegetarian cuisine.

Rice (com trang) is at the centre of the Vietnamese diet, and besides steamed rice, it is also transformed into other common ingredients such as rice wine, vinegar, noodles, and paper wrappers for spring rolls. There are four main types of rice noodles. Banh pho are the wide white noodles used in Vietnamese soup, pho. Bun noodles (also called rice vermicelli) look like long white strings when cooked. Banh hoi are a thinner version of bun noodles. In addition, there are dried glass, or cellophane, noodles (mien or bun tao) made from mung bean starch.

Nuoc mam, an expensive, light-colored, first-drained salty fish sauce, that is used in most Vietnamese recipes, is essential to the cuisine. It is reserved primarily for table use. The less expensive nuoc mam is used in cooking. Dishes that have made Vietnamese cuisine popular globally include the goi cuon (summer/spring rolls), pho, bánh mì (bread rolls) and bún. The most popular condiment is nuoc cham (dipping sauce), which is as common in Vietnam as ketchup.

Vietnam has been on the crossroads of world trade for centuries and the influences on its modern cuisine are unmistakable. The Chinese taught the Vietnamese cooking techniques such as stir frying and deep frying, as well as the use of chopsticks. In the south, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand introduced ingredients such as Cambodian style egg noodles, spices, chili, and coconut milk. From the 16th century, explorers and traders introduced foods such as potatoes, tomatoes, and snow peas. The French, who ruled Vietnam for a century, introduced foods such as baguettes — seen at almost all meals now. Modern Vietnamese cuisine is divided into three cultural regions, each with a distinct culinary tradition.

A major reason that makes Vietnamese food recipes popular is the Vietnamese soup customs. Soup is served for breakfast, which includes bowls full of steaming noodle with soup and ingredients like beans, sprouts; lime slices and basil are also added. Phó which means “your own bowl” is a popular restaurant in the US and has customers lined up at its doors. Sauce is spiced up with plenty of chilli-garlic sauce or fish sauce before it is served.

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