Refreshing flavours of the cuisine, use of distinctive herbs and warm spices will tingle your taste-buds and give you a fulsome feel.
You always look forward to promotions of international cuisines at hotels and restaurants curated by expert chefs simply because you know you are most likely to have authentic fare on your plate. So this time round, when we were invited by Hyatt Regency to taste food cooked by guest chefs Thi Tin Ho and Quoc Vu Hoang from Vietnam for its week-long Vietnamese food promotion, we were bubbling with hope.
The versatility, freshness and all-round deliciousness of Vietnamese cuisine is what makes it so popular in many countries the world over. While it has but a niche audience in Delhi, chefs Thi Tin Ho and Quoc Vu Hoang are in the city to showcase the best of their country’s cuisine at Café Hyatt. “We are excited to be here. It’s great to be able to introduce our traditional food in a country that has such strong cuisines,” says Thi Tin Ho.
For our first offering, fine rice paper sheets put their arms around plump, blushing shrimp on the summer roll platter and crispy tofu spring rolls arrive prettily plated with sticky hoisin and fish sauce. The dish is of Vietnamese origin called Cha Gio.
Next is the perfectly cooked chicken served with a spunky cold noodle salad and demure vinegar sauce. If your greet doesn’t need meat, the crispy pancakes capped with shredded vegetables (you should see the knife work on these!) feel like a healthier option. They arrive quickly, with an array of sides: dark green leaves, sambal, chopped green chillies and lime. I hurriedly gulp a large spoonful, only to scald my tongue. Not sure if I should wait for it to cool or have it as it is, I see my friend enjoying the steaming cuisine. I follow suit; soon, there is an explosion of flavours and textures in my mouth. There is the heat of the chilli, the tang of the lime, the bite of the meat and the body of the noodles. The leaves add much-needed crunch.
Among the salads, we start with a bowl of tofu salad, the famed one, which is made to perfection with a pinch of fresh coconut, mint leave and toasted sesame seeds. “Nothing is wasted while cooking; the charcoal-grilled shrimp mousse is wrapped on sugarcane skewers which can be eaten as well. They add a sweet dimension to the salty seafood topped with chilli vinegar,” explains chef Thi Tin Ho as we finish our salad. The cuisines share ingredients with Indian cooking — coconut, banana blossoms and dals among others — but the flavours are far removed from each other, she says. “We reached Delhi with a box weighing 30 kg and it only contains ingredients which will be used over the span of a week here. With rice being available in abundance, rice vermicelli and rice paper rolls are used in both steamed and fried dishes. Fresh spring rolls are more popular than the fried ones, and slow cooking is favoured, making Vietnamese food one of the healthiest in the world,” she adds.
With this, we move towards the flavour-packed tofu noodle soup, which is the national dish of the Southeast Asian country. It transitions from warm and comforting to hot and spicy when a spoonful of chilli paste, a smattering of chopped green and red chillies, and a dash of lemon are added to the bowl.
For the mains, we begin with juicy, fat grilled prawns stuffed with coriander and follow it up with a well marinated chicken in a special sauce that has a distinct pungent flavour and then grilled lightly. Served on short skewers, it looks and even tastes like tikkas. The heat of the chicken, fresh off the grill, is matched with a cold fish sauce — the combination of which is quite a pleasant surprise. In the vegetarian section, we are served tofu grilled with butter-garlic sauce and Vietnamese fried rice. The finish is perfect — slightly charred on the outside, soft inside.
As we polish off the last of our grilled tofu, we are surprised to hear soups for the dessert. Hoi An, a warm sweet corn soup combined with a spoonful of coconut milk. The other one is a banana sweet soup with colocasia root and coconut milk. It would have tasted better if served cold.