The flavours of Vietnam at Benjarong

Among Asian cuisines, Vietnamese food is considered the most healthy. From light but flavour-packed soups, to fresh rice paper rolls stuffed with herbs and veggies, to grilled meats, seafood and food on sticks, the dishes are presented with colourful herbs on the side. And everyone knows that herbs are good for you.
So we went across to Benjarong, to the "Flavours of Vietnam" festival to check out all we'd read about the cuisine.

Chef Nguyen & Chef  Ram Kumar

Chef Nguyen Thi Nho from Vietnam and Chef Ram Kumar of Benjarong have created an interesting  menu that showcases Vietnamese food. To be doubly sure of presenting true flavours, Chef Nho has brought in Vietnamese ingredients not easily available in the city. The rest, she and Chef Ram picked up from the local markets.   

Vietnamese iced coffee; jambolan cool; passion fruit juice

We chose 3 drinks from the menu to share. One was the Vietnamese coffee. The drip filter sat over a glass half-filled with condensed milk. It's mixed together and poured over ice and if you like your coffee cold and sweet, you need to order this. Jambolan Cool was the one I liked best. Made with the pulp of jamun or damson plum, it has many health benefits, none of which came to mind as I sipped and savoured the drink. The passion fruit juice was equally refreshing.

What's on the menu?

Five spiced Vietnamese fish with sriracha and nuoc cham

Vietnam is known for its street food and when these skewers with five spiced Vietnamese fish made their appearance, we attacked them at once ...well, after the pics were taken. The fish, of course was basa and best had when dipped into the sriracha and nuoc cham sauces. Piping hot too.

Charcoal grilled shrimp on sugarcane sticks

One of Vietnam's most popular appetisers is charcoal grilled shrimp mousse on sugarcane sticks. The mousse was light and airy and clung on well to the stick, a little of the sugarcane juices  had permeated into the shrimp, making it a wonderful combination of savoury prawn and sweet cane juice. The bonus, of course, is that you can chew on the stick. In Vietnam, it is served with a version of string hoppers that is wrapped around the mousse along with the herbs and dipped into the sauces.

Fresh shrimp spring rolls

There were baskets of fresh shrimp spring rolls. Through the translucent rice paper, we could see large shrimps, finely sliced cabbage and green herbs. There was a peanut sauce to dip them, every bite was a burst of flavour and freshness. As for the mint, we had to make do with the Indian variety.

Jasmine tea is always served cold in Vietnam
Deep-fried chicken spring rolls. The wrap is made with netted rice
paper and it retained its crunch even after sitting around for a bit.

Pho bo

If Vietnam has a national dish, it must be pho. Cooking a stock for 8 hours or more will result in the most delicious base for a broth. Chef Nho's pho had thin slices of beef, onions and rice noodles for texture; other spices included star anise, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, roasted onion and garlic. The soup was deliciously aromatic. Basil leaves, sliced chillies, lime and sriracha were served on the side but for me, there was nothing else that this pho needed.

Beef roll with peanut sauce has a thin slice of beef encasing a filling of minced beef with
 chicken fat which keeps the meat moist.. 

Clay pot tofu, mushroom & aubergine in a sauce with plenty of heft...yum yum
Dried bean curd skin used as a wrap for tofu cubes. The skin was crisp, the thick sauce, moreish. 

Whole hamour steamed in soyabean sauce. Best eaten with steamed rice.

Vietnamese chicken curry in coconut gravy flavoured with curry leaves!
Perfect pairing with mung bean sticky rice. 

Fried rice with lotus seeds and wrapped in lotus leaf

Beef with glass noodles

The spread...well, part of it at least!

Baked banana cake; mung bean cake; handmade jelly tofu with ginger gruel

We tried the trio of desserts specially made for the festival. My table mates pronounced the banana cake delectable. For me, it was a toss-up between the dense but sweet mung bean cake and the pandan-flavoured jelly tofu. Both were luscious.

We learnt a few things about Vietnamese food too - the food is always made fresh, is light and full of zest thanks to the abundance of herbs used both in cooking and eaten along with the meal. Another point of interest is that coconut water, rather than coconut milk or plain water is used to cook the food which adds oodles of flavour.

Flavours of Vietnam is on till August 26th.
Benjarong is at 146, TTK Road
Chennai 600018.
044 24322640

*This was an invited review 


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