Vietnamese cuisine is something that’s totally new for me as well as for most others in the city. With the passage of time, the cuisines from South East Asia are slowly coming up in the restaurants of Kolkata. But Vietnamese food haven’t made any such mark anywhere in the city. So, when Benjarong invited Panchphoron on the occasion of the Vietnamese food festival, I was very much eager for that and it was a golden chance to get delighted by the taste of Vietnamese food.
Before going into details, let me say in brief about the concept behind this festival. Ho Chi Minh City, which is commonly known as Saigon, is a city in Southern Vietnam. Like Bangkok, the city streets there are lined up with various food stalls, especially around the bustling Ben Thanh Market. For Vietnamese, food is a type of culture. They are forever eating, cooking or talking about food. To raise such authentic and unique dishes prepared by them to our palette, Benjarong has organised this food festival.
Benjarong finds its place in the food court of South City Mall. The décor is spectacular and is set with the theme. The statues and models look exquisite and amazing. This is my second visit to Benjarong, the previous being at their Thai Food Festival which did impress me in every way.
The Vietnamese food festival had a huge and diverse menu. We were served some of the special dishes carefully chosen from the menu. We started with the mocktail :
Nước Ép Chanh Dây – This was passion fruit juice which had basil for imparting a strong flavour. The drink was topped with basil seeds and had a pleasant taste. It was chilled and refreshing but at times I felt it to be overly sweet.
The soup which we had was Phở Gà. The name indicates the two main ingredients of the soup – flat Phở noodles and the shredded chicken Gà. This was a clear soup and the national dish of Vietnam. The soup was loaded with lots of onions. The ingredients were very simple, yet they imparted a very strong aroma and taste to the soup, the courtesy of which goes to the chef’s secret recipe.
The salad that came next was Gỏi Gà Bắp Chuối. Banana blossoms ( mocha ) were fried to a brown colour and were mixed with shredded chicken pieces, lots of onions, chillies and peanuts. Having two dishes with excess onion reflects the fact that onion is used as one of the major ingredients in most of the Vietnamese dishes. The salad was amazing. The crispy banana blossoms and the soft, boiled chicken pieces were an amazing combo. The salad had a balanced sweet and sour taste, indicating that sugar and lime juice had been added in proper proportions.
Next, we had the starters :
1. Gỏi Cuốn Tôm với Tương Ngọt và Đồ Chua – This one was a shrimp spring roll. Firstly, the outer coating was amazing. It was made of rice paper and hence was much unique than the ordinary spring rolls. The stuffing was of fresh shrimps, with vermicelli and finely chopped veggies. Secondly, the taste was out of the world. The fermented bean sauce was a perfect dip with this starter.
2. Chả Giò Gà với Rau Sống và Nước Mắm Tỏi Ớt – This was a fried spring roll with chicken as it’s main ingredient. Boiled Chicken was wrapped in rice paper, and deep fried to impart crispiness. The soft, delicate and flavourful chicken pieces inside the crispy covering was a delight to have. The dip of herb and chilli garlic fish sauce was outstanding !
3. Cá Nướng Ngũ Vị – Sliced fish was marinated with five spices, grilled and served in skewers. The fish was grilled to perfection. The soft fish just melted in my mouth. The flavours were on spot. Served with the same hot and sweet chili garlic fish sauce, this starter is something one can’t afford to miss out.
4. Bò Cuộn Sả Nướng với Bún Tươi và Nước Mắm Tỏi Ớt – Beef was wrapped on a thick lemongrass stick and then grilled over charcoal. It was served with fresh rice vermicelli and chilli garlic fish sauce. The beef was topped with roasted peanuts. Being a beef lover, I enjoyed having this. Though a bit fibrous and chewy, this tasted really authentic. One must try it with the rice vermicelli to feel the actual taste of the dish.
The main course had some wonderful dishes too :
1. Cá Kho Tộ – This one was unique, especially the way in which it was served. When it reached our table, the gravy was still bubbling. The fish was sliced into small pieces, caramelized and tossed in a sweet gravy. This was a perfect accompaniment with the rice dish, served next.
2.Càry Gà Nước Cốt Dừa – The dish looks like a yellow curry, similar to the Thai curries but the taste is totally different. There are chicken pieces and potato in it, the actual recipe having sweet potato. Coconut milk and curry leaves were also used in this dish, thereby giving it a slight south Indian touch. It tasted a little sweet but I loved it.
3. Cơm Chiên Hạt Sen và Thịt hoặc Hải Sản – You might have tasted or heard of egg wrapped rice, but this one is a lotus wrapped rice. The rice was packed delicately among the lotus leaves, making it look amazing. The rice was loaded with veggies and chicken and tasted decent. It really went well with both the side dishes.
The dessert options were :
1. Bánh Đậu Xanh – Mung beans were boiled, cooked in coconut milk and then baked. The cake so formed was cut into pieces and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and fresh fruit salad. The soft and spongy cakes were well made and tasted good.
2. Bánh Chuối Hấp Nước Cốt Dừa – These cakes were quite different from the previous one, both in terms of texture and taste. The texture was fluffy and jelly-like. Topped with roasted peanuts and coconut cream, these were sweet and amazing, infact better than the previous one. The cakes were also served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and chopped fresh fruits.
Overall, Benjarong has done a splendid job with the successful implementation of this festival. A huge round of applause goes to the chefs who have travelled all the way from Vietnam to serve their amazing dishes before us. This is indeed something new and exotic in Kolkata and it would be silly to miss out on this festival. The festival ends on 24th August, so hurry up before it expires!