After the Chinese egg foo yung and the Thai Tom Yum Kung (hot and sour shrimp soup) it is the Vietnamese Pho (beef soup) that is slowly making its way on to the gastronomical map of native food connoisseurs here.
"With the enigma around the Chinese noodle slowly wearing out thanks to the ubiquitious fast food stall dotting every street and with Thai cuisine fast outstripping its novelty value, it is the Vietnamese cuisine that is now stirring up the interest of food lovers", say Sandeep Kachroo, executive Chef, Taj West End Hotel. Known for its simplistic style of cooking, the cuisine is largely dominated by the presence of rice, sea food, meat, all devoured along with an array of sauces like the nuoac nam.
But the sauces are not fiery on the tongue, but instead playfully mingle with the main course, enhancing its inherent taste and letting lose the flavours subtly.
"Vietanmese cuisine is not spices but all about flavours" says the chef while zeroing down the essence of Vietnamese cuisine, which is still very new in India. Unlike the Chinese whose dishes come laced with sauces, here the entire course comes accompanied by sauces and a diner is allowed to mix and play around with sauces as per his choices, in fact, the sauces are mixed at the table.
But it is the Vietnamese obsession with freshness that makes it distinct. Their food is a personification of freshness. "In Vietnam, you never buy a dead fish. One can walk into the market, pick up a live fish of one's choice from a tank and transfer the contents into a waterfilled bottle and let it out straight into the pan" says Van, a Vietnamese culinary expert. Vietnamese cuisine is simmering with traces of the French culinary legacy and the influence of its neighbours-- China, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.
The vast coastline has added its own flavour to the cuisine of the nation. The Indian subcontinent has made its own contribution to this country in terms of the spice route making its way into the woks, ceramic jars and steam pots of many a Vietnamese. Though Indians dip their dishes in herbs, the Vietnamese do it, but in a different way.
It is the acquatic herbs like `rouram' that find their way to the clear soups or the duck roast or the pork steaming away in a hot pot. "The aquatic herbs have a very distinct taste, a more fish like taste", says Sandeep, who is currently growing the herbs in Bangalore to retain the authentic taste of the dish. Like in India, rice finds its place in most of the menus.
Rice makes its way into breakfast, starters, the main course, the accompaniments, the deserts and even into wines. The rice cake preparation is an event by itself as the family members engage in a singing-dancing session or narrating tales of a bygone era, all while stoking the hot flames under the pot under the canopy of a starlit sky.
Vietnamese cuisine is not stylised or documented. Its simplicity is its hallmark. "Moreover the act of rolling the meat on to lettuce leaves or greens, cutting down oil, makes it a healthy cuisine", say Sandeep. Be it the Cha gio or Goi Cuon (spring rolls) the Lau (Steam pot), Suon Nuong (spare rib pork) or the Hexo Xao Sate (a pork dish), Vietnamese cuisine is here to stay, says Van. With the Indian food connoisseurs still learning to unravel the secret in the layers of the crispy spring rolls or the juicy details hidden in the Bahn Chung, Vietnamese cuisine is bound to have long innings in India predicts Van.