Thursday, 24 July 2014

Flavours of Vietnam at Benjarong in Bangalore

Oriental Cuisines Private Limited (OCPL) was founded by foodie, professor, restaurateur & entrepreneur M. Mahadevan in May 1994, under the name of Chaitanya Gourmet Splendour Private Limited, later renamed Oriental Cuisines Private Limited in March 1997. Their global cuisine brings the finest and authentic flavours of the world to connoisseurs. Oriental Cuisines’ brands include The French Loaf, Le Chocolatier, Tapas Bar, Benjarong, Teppan, Ente Keralam, Wangs Kitchen, China Town and Planet Yumm.

I was invited to be part of the on-going Vietnamese festival at Benjarong named 'Flavours of Vietnam'. Honestly, this was going to be my first experience at Vietnamese food. All I knew about the cuisine was that the delicacies are created with selective use of spices to attain a fine taste. As a food enthusiast I was very excited to be part of it as I am not going to Vietnam any time soon to try their delicacies. Benjarong is a Thai restaurant which was hosting a Vietnamese festival for the first time in Bangalore. I was told that Ace Vietnamese Chef Nguyen Thi Nao has flew down from Vietnam to take us on an exotic culinary journey via Thailand. She has been associated with famous cooking shows on TV and radio channels in Vietnam. She has displayed her excellence by participating in Guinness Vietnam Record 2013, for ‘The Most Soup/Noodle in a festival’.

As I entered the restaurant, I found the place to be dim-lighted. Aji Joseph who is the corporate chef of OCPL and Chef Ramkumar who is the Brand chef of Benjarong took us through the entire idea of Vietnamese festival and also took note of our preferences. I was very delighted as I could eat all meat available in the kitchen as Benjarong does not serve pork in any of their outlets. Aji caught me looking at the table tent mentioning about Vietnamese Iced coffee and told us to try it out as it is the speciality of Vietnam. It is also known as 'Ca phe da or Cafe da'. It is a traditional recipe made with coarsely ground Vietnam grown dark roast coffee individually brewed with small metal french dip filter into a cup containing sweetened condensed milk. The milk and coffee is mixed well and poured over the crushed ice. One can make the coffee according to their taste and enjoy the chillness of it. Yes, this can be had over a meal or even at the beginning. It was divine and everyone on the table enjoyed it.

Iced Coffee

You can watch the below video on how to make the Vietnamese Iced coffee.

Some Fried rice crackers were served with a Dip made from fresh basil, Thai coriander, mint and a hint of peanut. The dip was so good that it was repeated on our table till we ended our meal. The taste wasn't like the usual mint chutney. Chef Nho informed that she used to make this dip at her home in Vietnam and wanted to incorporate the same for the festival. The meal hadn't started and we were already impressed.

Fried rice crackers with Dip
To begin with, salad was served on the table. Banana Blossom salad with Tofu and Banana Blossom salad with Chicken, both had a sprinkle of peanuts. Banana blossom is a unique and exotic ingredient growing on the end of the stem holding a cluster of bananas, and its inner, pale-colored leaves are considered a vegetable in many Asian or tropical regions. It was served with fried rice crackers and green leaves. I preferred chicken over tofu. The dish was very simple to taste with minimal spices used, giving the taste of every ingredient present. Truly a delectable dish.

Banana Blossom salad with tofu
Banana Blossom salad with chicken,
Next on the table was Minced beef wrapped in betel leaf and baked, served with spring onion oil and roasted peanut. I was looking forward for this as the betel leaf were imported from Vietnam. The betel leaf available in India is strong whereas the leaf from Thailand is mild on taste but flavorful. The first bite of the wrap gave me the taste of beef which was very tender and very easy on the jaw. The betel leaf was mild and tasted delish with the beef. Rice vermicelli and some sliced vinegar dipped carrots and radish were also served. Every bite of the wrap along with vermicelli and carrots gave a delicious taste as a whole.

Minced beef wrapped in betel leaf
Vietnamese fresh shrimp spring rolls dipped in fermented bean sauce and mixed pickles served with Five spiced Vietnamese fish skewers and BBQ honey chicken skewers was served next. I tasted the fish skewer and the Basa fish was juicy, tender and perfectly cooked. The five spices used enhanced the taste of the fish. As I took the bite of chicken skewer, I smirked. It was sweet due to the presence of honey but the chicken was tender to chew. Later I took a bite of shrimp spring roll. To my eyes I noticed that a lot of detailing went in making the roll which had clear layering of vegetables and shrimp. but for me, the taste of vegetables overpowered the taste of shrimp and I found the roll to be soft. This is because of the delay I did in eating the roll. I suggest that you eat the rice spring roll as soon as it is placed on the table.

Vietnamese fresh shrimp spring rolls
Vietnamese fish skewers and BBQ honey chicken skewers
In veg, Crispy water chestnuts with spring onion and spicy sauce was served along with Vegetable spring rolls. Water chestnut was sweet and light and the spicy sauce served along with it added the dash of spice in the dish.

Crispy water chestnuts with spring onion
Vegetable spring rolls
It was time for some soup, the famous 'Pho' soup. Vegetarian Pho noodle soup, Chicken Pho noodle soup and Beef Pho noodle soup was served. Beef Pho noodle soup was for me. I was told that this is one of the best soup in the world. After the first spoon, I couldn't help but agree to it. The meat was very soft, tender, very less chewy as it was cooked perfectly. It was easy on the jaw and teeth. Minimal use of spices retained the taste of beef and noodles in the soup. I could notice a thin layer of oil which was the oil from the meat. A notion that red meat is fatty and unhealthy could be taken out. If the meat is cooked in the right way then could be healthy. I could have a meal out of this one dish. For the taste of Chicken Pho noodle you can refer to Suman's blog and for Vegetable Pho soup, refer to Nita's blog.

 Beef Pho noodle soup

The highlight for the day brought which was Stir-fried glass noodles with crab meat and Stir-fried glass noodles with vegetables. I loved stir-fried glass noodles with crab meat. I rarely get a chance to eat glass noodles and crab meat so this dish just hit the boundary for me. Minced crab meat mixed well with the noodles giving a very palatable taste. A veggie couldn't refuse but taste this dish. This says it all :) Stir-fried glass noodles with vegetables also had some tofu added. The taste of every vegetable was evident in a bite. From now, glass noodles is something I will order.

Stir-fried glass noodles with crab meat
Stir-fried glass noodles with vegetables
I felt the need for a mocktail which is why I ordered for a Tangy Watermelon and Suman requested for his all-time favorite.
Tangy Watermelon cooler had a simple blend of watermelon and oranges.

Tangy Watermelon
Virgin mojito

Caramelised fish in Claypot and Caramelised tofu in Claypot was also served. Another excellent Vietnamese cuisine, simple at presentation but high on flavors garnished with spring onion and red chillis. It is a simple recipe but needs precision and experience to make in claypot. Fish was cooked well and coated with sauce which was sweet, salty and spicy enhancing the taste of the fish. Tofu was also cooked well, but this time I went ahead with a little mix and had the tofu with the mint dip served with fried rice crackers and also with fermented bean sauce. I actually liked my version of tofu more.

Caramelised fish in Claypot
Caramelised tofu in Claypot
Next, Green mung bean sticky rice was served with Vietnam chicken gravy in coconut gravy. Some difference with sticky rice was observed. This wasn't plain or jasmine flavor sticky rice instead moong dal was used, an Indian touch? The sticky rice was pungent. Vietnam chicken gravy blended perfectly with rice giving a aromatic experience and satisfying my taste buds and filling my tummy.

Green mung bean sticky rice

Vietnam chicken gravy in coconut gravy
After the entire meal, a small portion of dessert will do no harm. Out of the 3 available desserts, we had Baked mung bean cake with ice cream served with fresh chopped fruits. A baked gram cake is surely healthy but this was a little hard but less on sweetness. We had a suggestion to warm the cake and serve but we were informed that these desserts are made in a particular way in Vietnam and people living there do not have the same sweet tooth which we have. Next was Crystal steamed banana cake served with coconut sauce and ice cream served with fresh chopped fruits, my first try at it. The banana cake was steamed and the coconut sauce along with it gave a sweetened taste to my taste buds. The texture and complexity of the dish was eye-pleasing. While the other bloggers preferred the banana cake, I preferred the baked mung bean cake. The combination of the dessert served with vanilla ice cream which was sprinkled with some nuts and a small bowl of chopped fruits worked wonder for me.

Baked mung bean cake

Crystal steamed banana cake

During my entire stay at Benjarong, I understood that Vietnamese food is less on spices compared to our Indian cuisine where we could gulp water after every dish. I rarely had a glass of water during my entire meal. Peanut is used a lot in their delicacies, even in salads they do sprinkle some nuts. Fish sauce is used in a non-veg dishes so make sure you inform the chef if you are allergic to any of them. The food is high on flavor and retain the individual taste of ingredients in every dish they serve. It is also very healthy.

A great conversation with Chef Ram and Chef Nao on Vietnamese cuisine and their ingredients gave us more knowledge on the same.

You can watch a small chat with the Chef's on Flavours of Vietnam in the video below.

Flavours of Vietnam has started in Bangalore from 23rd July 2014 and will end on 10th August 2014. The price of each dish ranges between Rs. 250-500 each. I highly recommend the Iced coffee, Pho soup (beef, if you consume it) and stir-fried glass noodles with crab meat. So if you cannot go to Vietnam to taste their cuisine then this is the perfect festival for you to visit.
Benjarong: #12/1, Ulsoor road, Ulsoor, Bangalore.