I was invited to the Vietnamese Food Festival happening at Benjarong and frankly, I should say I was quite sceptical! This was because I do not eat sea-food and from what I remember, sea-food is a very important part of Vietnamese cuisine. I was assured that there was a nice balance of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, and soon I was ready to try ! Somehow, In our place, Vietnamese cuisine is not as popular as their neighbouring cuisines, Chinese and Thai. While on the way to the restaurant, I was wondering if I knew anything more about Vietnam other than the badminton player Nguyen Tien Minh. Probably not 🙂
I have been to Benjarong once, very long ago. The ambience and decor is nicely done, a little dim to my liking, but very good. We were seated comfortably, in a nice bright place, decent for clicking photos. Being a coffee-lover, the picture and description of Iced Coffee on the table tent was tempting. We decided to start with that. It was basically a coffee decoction made in a French style Coffee Filter, mixed with condensed milk and poured over crushed ice. It was amazing, the flavor of coffee was absolutely wonderful !
The manager Mr. Manikandan introduced us to Executive Head Chef Mr. Ramkumar and I made sure I told him my preference – Vegetarian and Chicken 🙂 While we were chatting and munching the crackers on the table, the salad arrived. I got a Banana Blossom salad with Chicken and Karthik got a Beef salad with young banana. The first mouth, I could make out there was a flavoring of fish sauce in the salad, though very mild. Fish sauce, soy sauce and shrimp paste are very commonly used in Vietnamese cooking, even if it is a chicken dish. I was lucky the fish sauce was very mild. The salad was tasty and light. The use of raw onions, peanuts and green chilly was in a way very familiar, reminded me of Jhal Muri. Next came the appetizers. Even before we tasted them, it was a visual delight. It came in two baskets and was very appealing. Grilled beef on Lemongrass sticks, BBQ Honey Chicken Skewers, Fish skewers, Dill Fish cake, Rice Vermicelli were some of the appetizers that were served. Since my choice was limited, I had the chicken skewers and it tasted awesome, slightly sweet because of the honey. The rice vermicelli was good, reminded me of South-Indian idiyappam, but much finer and softer. One dish worth mentioning is the Rice Paper rolls with carrots, shrimp, rice vermicelli and leaves of coriander, basil and mint. This was so nicely done and cut into pieces that the cross section of each piece was intricate. Then came the famous ‘Pho’ soup. I got it with chicken and Karthik got it with beef. There was lots of nicely-cooked chicken and flat noodles in the soup. It was mildly flavored and not very spicy. For me, the highlight of the meal was the Vietnam Chicken Curry in Coconut Gravy and Green Mungbean sticky rice that we had for main-course. Absolutely lip-smacking ! Crab salad with glass noodles was also served and I gave it a pass. We ordered a tender coconut water with mint and honey and it was just ok. It looked better than how it tasted. Finally the desserts – Baked Mungbean cake with ice cream and fresh fruits and Crystal steamed banana caramelized with coconut sauce and ice Cream. I felt the mungbean cake was a bit hard and probably that is why we got knives for desserts 🙂 The steamed banana with coconut sauce was very different and tasty. Interesting to note that it was garnished with peanuts and tasted good.
We were told Chef Nguyen Thahn Vu and Chef Nguyen Thi Nho from Saigon,Vietnam have flown down to Chennai for this food festival. We had a brief chat with Chef Nguyen Thi Nho. Generally, when I have met Chefs at restaurants, it is a very formal Hello, a few words about the food, and that’s it. I must say, Chef Ramkumar was a very pleasant person and we had a long chat with him during the course of our meal. We spoke about food, cuisines, travel, photography and much more. It was a pleasure to have met him. Overall, it was a nice experience to have tasted Vietnamese Cuisine for the first time ever.
‘Flavors of Vietnam’, the Vietnamese Food Festival is on until 27th July 2014 at Benjarong on TTK Road. The price for an average meal for 2 would be around Rs. 1800 + Taxes.
More info on Karthik’s Blog – http://www.eatwitheyes.com/2014/07/Vietnamese-Festival-Benjarong-Chennai.html