go with the pho
Though Vietnamese food has been threatening to take India by storm for the past few years, it has so far been more niche than nationwide. Now, finally, the cuisine is ready to battle for wider recognition
Vietnamese food is the trend that’s been waiting to happen. Foodies have called it the ‘next big thing’ for years, but it’s now that the cuisine is cast into the spotlight by changing tastes. Vietnamese food is creeping up not just at food festivals around the city but also in the form of speciality restaurants. It seems Vietnamese is the new Thai. So what’s working for this cuisine in India? To find out, climb aboard the food trend train to Vietnam!
SIMPLE AND SOULFUL
Vietnamese cuisine doesn’t win any points for complexity. Many of the most popular dishes can be easily recreated at home as also in a high-end restaurant. But it’s precisely this simplicity, the subtle flavours and the fresh ingredients that are drawing Indians to this cuisine. “Indians have become a lot more discerning over the last couple of years and are open to suggestions from the Chef, which definitely helps in introducing new flavours to them,” says Chef Cheang Chee Leong, Chef De Cuisine Mekong Palladium Hotel. Palladium is one of the few five star hotels in Mumbai with an Asian restaurant serving distinctive Vietnamese cuisine.
The food is also fresher, healthier, lighter and brighter than Chinese, Indian or French, three of its closest influences. Flavours and textures are so beautifully arranged that each note rings clear, from the piercing high of bird eye chilli and nuoc cham (fish sauce) to the flavourful stock. “Vietnamese cuisine is planned on the Ying Yang principle of balance. Hence the meal incorporates essence of sweet, sour, bitter, hot and umami. Many of the dishes are a complete meal in itself with all the flavours and taste incorporated in one,” adds Leong.
THE STAR INGREDIENTS
Vietnamese food is all about rice (steamed, sticky, noodles, pancakes, porridge), along with lots of fish sauce and fresh herbs like mint, cilantro and lemongrass. Tropical fruits like rambutan, banana, papaya, mango, etc, often find its way into the main course. Proteins come in the form of seafood, pork, beef and chicken. Borrowed flavours from the French and nearby countries like Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and China add a punch. “Ingredients such as rice, ginger, lemon, mint, basil, coriander and curry powder used in Vietnamese food find resonance with Indians. They really love the simplicity and freshness of the dishes,” affirms Chef Van Son, executive sous chef, Sofitel Saigon Plaza, Vietnam, who was recently in India for the Vietnamese food festival at Sofitel Hotel Mumbai.
Almost all Vietnamese dishes come with sauces on the side. Apart from the ubiquitous fish sauce there is Nuoc Cham, a mixture of fish sauce, lime juice, chilli and garlic. The salty, tangy, spicy, fishy and sweet sauce is exactly what you need to dunk or dip! You may never go back after a taste.
Like Italians have their tomato sauce, Pho (pronounced Fu) is the chicken soup of Vietnam. This simple staple consisting of a salty broth, rice noodles, a sprinkling of herbs and chicken or beef is the most renowned of Vietnamese dishes. And understandably so. It’s earthy and soothing enough to be an addiction. “Though it’s not listed on the menu we have people coming to Busaba especially for Pho. It’s a complete meal and Indians love it,” says Nikhil Chib, owner Busaba, one of the earliest Pan Asian restaurants serving Vietnamese food in Mumbai. After one of his trips to Vietnam in 2002, Chib even brought back a Vietnamese chef Nhan Nguyen to Busaba to discover the art of Pho.
Another must try dish is Goi Bo – a refreshing raw papaya salad with shredded carrots, shrimps, basil and peanuts. If you are a fish eater try Cha ca La Vong. Sizzling batter fried fish served on a bed of vermicelli along with scallions, crumbled peanuts, chillies and bright-green dill. Various versions of spring rolls right from the fried to the steamed dot the cuisine but the most popular one is the fresh and healthy Goi cuon. The translucent parcels are stuffed with salad greens, meat or seafood and a layer of coriander, before being neatly rolled and dunked in Vietnam’s favourite condiment - fish sauce.
In fact it was one of the most popular dishes at the recently held Vietnamese food festival at Sofitel, Mumbai. If you don’t mind the extra calories go for the Banh xeo - a crispy crepe bulging with meat, bean sprouts and fresh herbs. Desserts could range from the humble jelly to the belt-bustingly good Fried Pineapple in sesame sauce.
There is nothing laboured or pretentious about Vietnamese food. It may not be the most predictable Asian cuisine and its flavours and combinations might leave your taste buds wondering after the first bite. But it is sure to grow on you. That’s what simple things do to you.
VIETNAMESE FRIED RICE
from Mekong, Palladium
1 cup cooked rice, 20g diced carrots, 20g sweet corn kernels, 10gm diced gherkins, 40g chicken breast boiled and diced, 20gm diced boiled prawns, 1 beaten egg, 30ml corn oil, salt to taste, pepper to taste, 1 tsp fried shallot for garnish, 1 lotus leaf
Heat a wok and add corn oil. Then add eggs and fry until almost cooked. Add all the vegetables, chicken and prawn and toss until all are evenly. Add the rice to the above mix and toss so that everything mixes properly. Season the sautéed rice with some salt, pepper and sugar. Toss well to ensure that all the ingredients are mixed. Wrap the rice in lotus leaf. Serve hot by cutting across the wrapper with garnish of
BRAISED DUCK WITH PINEAPPLE AND MUSHROOMS by Chef Dao
Van Son, Executive Sous Chef, Sofitel Plaza Saigon, Vietnam
Duck whole, 200g pineapple, 50g mushrooms, 1pc carrot, 2pcs shallot, 3pcs ear mushrooms, 1/3 tsp turmeric powder, pepper, salt, fish sauce, sugar
• Wash the duck, take out the bone. Cut duck meat into small cubes 2x2cm, season with salt and pepper
• Mushroom, wash well, take out the root and cut into halves
• Wash ear mushrooms and cut like duck meat
• Pineapple, cut into small cubes 1.5x1.5cm
• Trim carrot for décor
• Chop shallot, sauté for taste, add duck meat, turmeric powder, two kinds of mushrooms, pineapples and carrot. Sauté, then add one small bowl of water and cook in slow heat in 10 minutes or until duck meat is soft. Add corn starch and a little of sugar and pepper
CHILLI CHICKEN SPRING ROLLS by Nikhil Chib, Busaba
• 4 rice papers (imported from Vietnam, can be found at Crawford Market), 200g finely sliced chicken, 50g chopped garlic
• 1/2" chopped ginger, 50g chopped green and red chilli mixed
• Chib’s Chilli Sauce Green, Sesame Oil, soy sauce, honey, 1 carrot, 1 cucumber, small bunch of Iceberg lettuce, mint, coriander and basil about 3-4 leaves per spring roll.
• Marinade chicken in 2 tbs of sesame oil, a dash of soy sauce, a good dash of Chibs Chilli Sauce Green, a smudge of honey and the chopped garlic, ginger and honey. Let it sit for 20 mins maximum.
• Julienne the carrot and cucumber and submerge in distilled vinegar and 2 tbsp sugar
• On high heat, stir fry chicken with marinade for a few minutes until done. Sprinkle with white sesame seeds. Keep aside to cool.
• Lay out rice paper on clean surface and dampen with wet cloth. Fold in iceberg lettuce, julienne carrots and cucumbers, and cooled chicken.
• Repeat for the remaining rice papers.
• Serves 4-8 as appetizers.
If all that food talk has left you ravenous, here’s
where you can head to for some Vietnamese food:
MUMBAI: Busaba, 4 Mandlik Road, Colaba, Mumbai
T: 022 22043769/79/72
Try the Vietnamese Tiger Prawns in lemon grass and rock salt. The Cold Spring Rolls with tofu, pickled vegetables, coriander, mint, basil are delicious and healthy too. The rice pan cakes here are a must try.
Mekong, Palladium Hotel, Extension of Entry road to Phoenix, Lower Parel, Mumbai; T: 022 6162 8422
The city’s most gorgeous restaurant sits elegantly on the 37th floor of the magnificent Palladium Hotel. The garden green vegetable salad with rocket leaves, lettuce, cucumber and avocado dressing is appetite-stoking. Follow it up with Vietnamese Pho. Leave room for the very authentic Vietnamese dessert with unique pandan leaf flavoured coconut milk with roasted banana dipped in caramel. Served with
vanilla pod ice cream.
PUNE: Baan Tao - Hyatt Pune, Adjacent to Aga Khan Palace, 88, Nagar Road, Pune; T: 020 41418832/33
The Vietnamese fried chicken is fragrant with fresh lemon grass and a liberal sprinkling of chilli. The cold spring rolls with a choice of prawn, chicken or vegetables makes for excellent starters here. A tossed salad of bean sprouts, tofu, cucumber, onion with Vietnamese dressing and a yummy Vietnamese fish soup with dill, chilli and fresh turmeric are other dishes worth trying.