Vietnam calling

Dishes and ingredients displayed at the food festival   | Photo Credit: K_R_DEEPAK

The Gateway makes a spirited attempt to introduce this popular Southeast Asian cuisine to the city through a food festival

What makes Vietnamese cuisine so popular the world over? At the end of the food tasting session at The Gateway’s Ming Garden restaurant that is currently hosting a Vietnamese Food Festival, the answer was loud and clear. I couldn’t un-smell the fresh herbs in every dish for a good long time after the fine feast.

Veering from the comforting flavours of mild and sweet to a delicious hot and spicy, each dish could actually have its own bottled fragrance. It is this freshness and a balance of aroma, sweetness, tanginess and spiciness that makes Vietnamese cuisine such a hit.

The Gateway makes a great attempt to introduce this popular Southeast Asian cuisine to the city. And giving it an authentic touch is S Vairamuthu, Chef De Partie of Blue Ginger, the dedicated Vietnamese restaurant of Taj West End, Bengaluru. “The thing about Vietnamese food is that it is fresh and light and has many flavours. Herbs play a big part in it,” says Vairamuthu. I embark on the delightful culinary journey with the salads in the menu and these are indeed something to savour. The raw papaya and mango mixed salad is a personal favourite for its freshness and mild mango flavour that leaves behind a unique sweet and tangy taste. The next thing to be served is a steaming soup. The soups are a typical spicy offering laden with the familiar coconut flavour that characterise far-eastern cuisine. You can make out the spiciness of the soup only when the aftertaste hits after a few seconds. In the soups, you can choose from asparagus and haricot soup, hue tieu Shiagon, spicy mushroom and bamboo shoots lemon grass soup, prawn lemon grass chilli soup, asparagus and crab meat soup with cilantro and chicken corn soup.

Just like in India, food is central to Vietnamese culture. But unlike our heavy and spice-loaded cuisines, Vietnamese dishes are light with recurring bursts of sweetness. “The use of fresh ingredients like herbs and vegetables are a trademark of the traditional Vietnamese food. Also, there is very little use of oil and selective use of spice, making it a healthy option,” says Sanat Chitrakar, Executive Chef of The Gateway.

On the recommendation of the chef, I try the starters of water chestnut rice paper roll and the grilled lamb with sesame barbecue sauce. Both are distinctly different in taste and yet leave you wanting for more. If you are a fish lover, a must-try is the classical Hanoi grilled fish. The mustard essence plays hide and seek with the sweet and spicy flavours of the dish.

The delicacies don’t feel a bit heavy. And I soon find myself relishing the main course with stir fried rice noodles with vegetables. Another similarity between India and Vietnam is the omnipresent rice and fish sauce which the Southeast Asian country is very fond of. Vietnam is the second-largest rice exporter in the world (after Thailand). According to Chef Vairamuthu, rice appears at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even in dessert in Vietnam and so does coconut milk. The main course also has options like Vietnamese fish and bamboo shoot yellow curry that goes well with rice, Vietnamese prawn mango curry – another unique delicacy and a personal favourite that can teamed with rice or bread, stir fried lamb with sate sauce and stir fried chicken with lemon grass and chilli among other dishes.

I end the refreshing feast with the dessert section that has some equally enticing options like banana and sago pudding, thach sa or lemongrass tiramisu and banh flan dac biet or ginger coconut caramel custard.

By Nivedita Ganguly, TheHindu