For quite sometime, I have been politely refusing invites from various PR Agencies to attend food festivals and blog about it, primarily because this space has become a bit too crowded, and the pleasure of interacting with the Chef, getting to know about the food, and patiently clicking pics before relishing the food is totally lost. When it is a personal invite from the Chef himself, there is NO reason to think twice! It was an absolute pleasure and privilege to try Vietnamese cuisine at Benjarong where Chef Ramkumar and Chef Nguyen Thi Nho from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, have together curated the menu for the food festival – ‘Flavours of Vietnam’. Four years ago, I have attended the very same food festival at Benjarong and blogged about it here. This time, I had a decent idea of what to expect.
A foodie friend and I reached Benjarong at 1300 hrs as planned, and after saying a quick hello to the Chef, we settled down in a nice cozy place. I made sure there was enough light to click some decent pictures. In general, as I have mentioned earlier, the lighting is a bit dim here; good for eating, perhaps not so much to click pictures 🙂 Chef Ramkumar briefly explained what was going to be served and the expectation was sort of set!
We started with Miang Kham. Though not Vietnamese, a popular Thai appetizer and snack which roughly translates into ‘one-bite wrap’. Spinach leaf as the base and a bit of roasted coconut shavings, small ginger cubes, fresh green and red bird’s eye chilli peppers, Lemon wedges with peel, Onion pieces, and roasted Peanuts added to it. The slightly sweet tangy sauce is poured on it and wrapped and eaten in one mouthful. It was a burst of flavors, ate a couple of such wraps.
We were served two drinks – Jambolan Cool and Passion Fruit juice. The former was made with jamun, navaa pazham in Tamil, but I liked the latter better, it was quite refreshing!
Next to arrive was the famous Vietnamese Pho. This is basically a flavorsome noodle soup with choice of meat, a meal by itself. Thankfully we got small portions, so we weren’t stuffed right after it. The chicken in my pho was wonderful. I loved it all the more with the accompaniments, a dash of lemon juice, fresh red chilli pieces, Thai basil leaves and spicy siracha sauce.
Raw Mango salad tasted good and the crispy deep-fried tofu skin complemented it very well. The rice crispies were good too. I was a little skeptical if it would be too sour, but thankfully, it wasnt!
What came next to the table was a visual delight! The platter had a bit of everything so we could taste it all. My friend seemed to like Grilled Beef on Lemongrass Stick and Grilled Shrimp on Sugarcane Stick, Fresh Shrimps Sprill Roll was something very different. Rice paper sheet held together all the contents like a roll and contents were partially visible too. The chef mentioned that they use tender coconut water or coconut water to soften the brittle rice paper sheets before rolling them. The Peanut soya sauce was a perfect accompaniment to these rolls. I got a Tofu Spring Roll and that tasted good too. The highlight for me in the platter was the Crispy Fried Chicken Spring Rolls. This was crunchy and yummy. This also had a covering which looked like an even thinner rice paper sheet. Another accompaniment with this was rice vermicelli aka stringhoppers made into a roll. Overall, each one in the platter was unique and tasted wonderful. It was evident that Vietnamese cuisine uses mimimalistic spices and relies more on fresh and light ingredients.
The next one was Minced Tofu rolled in Tofu Skin sheet and cut into bite-sized pieces. It was on a bed of thick sauce that tasted awesome too.
We moved on to the main course – We were served a semi-dry Tofu, mushroom and eggplant cooked in Claypot. It was yummy, but just felt a little overdose of Tofu in the meal. 🙂 Now to very familiar flavors – Vietnamese Chicken Curry with coconut milk, lemon grass and curry leaves which was super tasty with the Mungbean Sticky Rice. Mungbean Sticky Rice was nothing but a Vietnamese version of our ‘North-Indian Khichdi’. Fried Rice with Lotus seeds was very good, and it wasn’t just that, it was packed in lotus leaf and steamed and presented wonderfully. Though I couldn’t explicitly pick what flavor the lotus leaf had added, it was yummy.
Quite stuffed already, ready to finish with a minimal portion of desserts – Tofu again in the consistency of a Jelly, with a sugary sauce and roasted shredded ginger. It was okay, very different. Perhaps more an acquired taste, I wouldn’t be too keen to order this again. The Banana Cake was decent, not wow. The Banana in it felt a bit raw, the cake was decent. Mungbean cake with the scoop of ice cream was a fitting end to the wonderful meal. However, we finished with a lemongrass tea, just to keep us refreshed on our drive back!
All the while it was a pleasure to chat up with Chef Ramkumar, who was more than happy to explain the small nuances in Vietnamese cooking, their general culture, eating preferences and so on. It was interesting and informational at the same time. Meanwhile Chef Nguyen Thi Nho came to say a hello and we had a quick photo opportunity with her. We thanked the Chef for a wonderful meal and proceeded to a meeting post-lunch, hoping we wouldn’t doze off. 🙂
Please be informed:
Flavours of Vietnam is on from August 06th to August 26th at Benjarong and they have an a nicely curated a la carte menu with over 30 interesting dishes to choose from.
It should cost ₹1800 + tax for two people.
Some of the pictures you see may be tasting portions and actual sizes may vary.