When a globally acclaimed American chef like Martin Yan of the Yan Can Cook series fame becomes the ambassador of Vietnamese cuisine, food connoisseurs across the world can’t afford to dismiss a food trend waiting to happen. "Vietnamese cuisine is colourful, interesting and complex yet surprisingly light and healthy. Vietnam’s cuisine reflects hundreds of years of foreign influence: it’s truly east meets west. It’s an experience no one should miss," writes the chef on his official website.
Yan has been promoting Vietnamese cuisine through his TV shows and appearances at various Vietnamese food events. Closer home, Vietnamese seems to be emerging as the new ‘it’ cuisine with a growing number of Indian chefs dishing out a Vietnamese fare.
"Vietnamese is the next big thing to happen to food. Out of all the South East Asian cuisines, it is the lightest, freshest and the amount of oil used is the least. Also, it is not very fiery since it has a lot of French influence, Vietnam earlier being a French colony. This influence makes it compatible to the western taste," says chef Manav Sharma. Chef Manish Mehrotra says that international food trends clearly predict that Vietnamese is going to be in demand. "Dishes such as Pho, a light noodle soup and summer rolls are being counted in the category of the trendiest dishes, featuring on the menus of French eateries across the world. We’ll see new dishes being added to the list," he says.
Exposure to the Vietnamese cuisine may have been less as compared to Thai or Chinese but slowly we see more eateries adopting it. The newly opened Urban Café in Saket has an entire menu devoted to Vietnamese delicacies. The Blue Ginger, the all Vietnamese eatery of the Taj Palace, has Vietnamese chef Hanna giving Delhiites a taste of authentic Vietnamese fare, flying in most of her ingredients from Vietnam. Restaurants such as Chilli Seasonss and Blanco also have extensive Vietnamese menus.
Vietnamese food generously uses vegetables and herbs, and is cooked with broth. It is mostly steamed, wok tossed, soaked in water, pickled, lightly baked and sun dried. Some dishes may require deep frying. As long as you keep the oil dripping stuff out, Vietnamese is the healthiest cuisine. It takes less time to cook and uses lots of fresh green leaves such as basil, tamarind, sirsak, cilantro, mint and lettuce.
Fresh, flavourful and light
The zingy seasonings used to perk up dishes create a delicious melange of sweet and tangy flavours, while the herbs and uncooked leaves leave a tingling freshness in your mouth. Star anise, cinnamon, lemongrass, red chilies, grated palm sugar, fish sauces, peanuts, black pepper, shallots, basil and lime juice are used to flavour veggies, seafood and meats.
The Vietnamese turn rice into a variety of ingredients such as rice noodles, rice paper sheets, rice wine and rice vinegar. The Nuoc cham — tangy sauce made with fish sauce, sugar, red chilies, and raw garlic — is akin to the South Indian coconut chutney. "The way Gujratis use sugar in their daal and vegetables, sugar is a part of almost every dish Vietnamese dish. The pure fish salt they have in generous proportions could make you very thirsty, so sugar balances out their meal," says Sudha Khukreja, owner Chilli Seasonss and Blanco that were among the first restaurants to serve a Vietnamese meal in the Capital.
Dishes to savour
You could judge a Vietnamese restaurant by the quality of these quintessential Vietnamese dishes:
Pho: A hearty soup, it’s made with rice noodles and chicken broth, flavoured with star anise and cinnamon. It’s served with fresh herbs, spices, bean sprouts, and fish sauce so that you can alter its taste as per your preference. It can even have tofu, seafood or beef in it.
Goi cuon: The summer rolls that are served cold, are made of paper thin sheet of rice dough that’s translucent and you can see all the stuffing. They could have veggies such as bean sprouts and cucumber dressed, prawns, glass noodles (transparent noodles made with starch), or chicken or a mix of all these tossed in a peanut sauce.
Bun: A zingy salad, it’s a mix of thin rice noodles, shredded or grilled meat, prawns, laid on a bed of lettuce leaves, seasoned with herb and sauces and sprinkled with coarsely grounded roasted peanuts.
Where to try Vietnamese in the city
Chilli Seasonss, Defence Colony
Blue Ginger, The Taj Palace
Blanco, Khan Market
Republic of Noodles, The Lemon Tree, Gurgaon
Oriental Octopus, India Habitat Centre
Urban Café, Saket