Flavours of Vietnam





Flavours of Vietnam
Vietnamese Food Festival at Benjarong Bangalore




One fine evening I was invited to be part of the on-going Vietnamese food festival at Benjarong, aptly named as ‘Flavours of Vietnam’. I was sceptic at first to try out the Vietnamese food as I haven’t tried it earlier and had no idea how the experience will turn out to be. But the foodie inside me definitely wanted to get familiar with something new. And here I was at Benjarong, excited to indulge in the ‘never tried before’ Vietnamese cuisine.

Benjarong is one among many reputed brands of Oriental Cuisines Private Limited (OCPL). It was originally founded by foodie, professor, restaurateur and entrepreneur M Mahadevan in May 1994 under the name of Chaitanya Gourmet Splendour Private Limited. It was later renamed Oriental Cuisines Private Limited in March 1997. The other brands under OCPL banner are: China Town, Ente Keralam, Le Chocolatier, Oriental Banquets, Oriental Inn, Planet Yumm, Teppan, the French Loaf, Wang’s Kitchen and Zara Tapas Bar.

Now, coming back to the Vietnamese Festival at Benjarong, I have been here twice before and honestly speaking I am a big fan of this place but as mentioned earlier, I had no idea what’s in store for us with regards to the Vietnamese festival.

Once we reached there, we were informed that the World-class Vietnamese Chef Nguyen Thi Nao is present here at Benjarong Bangalore all the way from Vietnam to make our dining experience a very special one. I and other fellow bloggers were indeed honoured to meet Chef of such high calibre who has been associated with cooking shows on TV and radio Channels in Vietnam. She has displayed her excellence by participating in Guinness Vietnam Record 2013, for ‘The Most Soup/Noodle in a festival’.
















The interior of the restaurant is very well decorated with sculptures, mirrors and different glow lights which make the dining experience very soothing. Mr. Ali Joseph, Corporate Chef, OCPL and Mr. Ramkumar, Brand Chef, Benjarong explained the whole idea behind the Vietnamese festival and to expect and the style of cooking as well. Less on spices, more on boiled, steamed dishes but with a lot of veggies included. We were delighted when Chef Ali told us that we will be making our own Vietnamese Cold Coffee (Ca phe da), which are a speciality of Vietnam and the highlight of this festival. He promised that it will be an experience that we will remember for a long time.



                Chef Nguyen Thi Nao (Left) & Chef Ramkumar (Right)





Soon, the staffs bought the apparatus to make the cold coffee and started showing us how is it made. I being a coffee addict, nothing could have been better than this. It was a perfect start for the evening. I was just amazed how good the coffee tasted; this was truly a masterpiece straight from Vietnam.
Below is the video of how the Vietnamese Iced coffee is made:





Would you like to try this at home? Surely you can. Here is the method of making Vietnamese Iced Coffee:

  • Add hot water to the filter with coffee powder and cover with lid.
  • Wait for few minutes to allow the coffee to drip down on to the condenced milk.
  • Once the coffee dripping stops remove the filter from the glass
  • With a sizzle stick, mix well the coffee and the condenced milk together.
  • Pour the coffee – condenced milk content into the crushed ice glass.
  • Enjoy the freshly made Vietnamese Iced Coffee.










                                            Vietnamese Iced Coffee


Moving on, another hit among the bloggers was presented on the table. This was nothing extraordinary, nothing out of the box. It was the usual Fried rice crackers or wafers that we fry at home and a bowl of green chutney or dip, which we tend to ignore at every restaurant we are offered as side dish.
But at Benjarong it has to be different. I swear on food, I haven’t had such a delicious, lip smacking chutney ever. Throughout the dinner, we bloggers did not leave this out of our sight even for a minute. Upon enquiring about the unique taste of Chutney from Chef Nho, she said – ‘she used to make this dip at her home in Vietnam and wanted to incorporate the same for the festival. The main ingredients used for this dip are: Fresh Basil, thai coriander, Mint, green chilli, salt and what adds to the taste is the inclusion of Peanuts’.



                                                 Fried Rice Crackers






The meal was yet to start and with back to back lip smacking innovations- firstly Vietnamese Iced Coffee and secondly Fried rice crackers with the green chutney, expectations were flying high, very high.

Later from the menu, we were served Banana Blossom Salad with Chicken. Banana blossom is a unique and exotic ingredient growing on the end of the stem holding a cluster of bananas, and its inner, pale-colored leaves are considered a vegetable in many Asian or tropical regions. It is popularly used as a type of vegetable in Vietnam. It is mostly consumed in summers. It was served with green leaves and wafers. A very simple cuisine, which is low on spices yet very rich in taste holding the very essence of ingredients used.







                                        Banana Blossom Salad with Chicken


Next on the menu was Vietnamese fresh shrimp spring rolls dipped in fermented bean sauce and mixed pickles served with Five spiced Vietnamese fish skewers and BBQ honey chicken skewers. The first thing I picked up was the fresh shrimp spring rolls. First bite of it and it had a very plain taste with vegetables clearly dominating the taste of shrimp. I would have preferred the other way round. Next, I picked up the Five spiced Vietnamese fish. And I have to admit here, Chef nailed it using the five spices along with the basa fish. It was very juicy making your tongue do merry go round inside the mouth, it was cooked to perfection. Last but not the least; I picked up BBQ honey chicken skewers. I am an avid chicken lover and here I was slightly disappointed with the sweetness that accompanied honey.









      Vietnamese fresh shrimp spring rolls, Five spiced Vietnamese fish skewers and BBQ honey chicken skewers.



And next on the menu was the much awaited ‘Pho’ soup, it was presented in three variants- Vegetarian, Chicken and Beef. Being a chicken admirer, I had to pick the Chicken Pho Noodle Soup. I cannot stop myself saying one more time; this is one of the best soups I have had in a long time. I like soups which are thick and not very watery. This was exactly what I prefer. The minimal use of spices allows savouring the taste of chicken and the noodles making it a soup in real sense. I have come across many places which spoils the real essence of soup by overdoing it with veggies and spices but here at Benjarong, less is more. I highly recommend the Chicken Pho noodle soup to the visitors.



Chicken Pho Noodle Soup


And as you say expect the unexpected, next on the table was Stir-fried Glass Noodles with crab meat. It is very rare to come across glass noodles and crab meat. This a combination that I would rate very high compared to others. At times, people do complain about the smell of crab but here there was nothing of that sort. The flavour minced crab meat added to the beauty of the glass noodles. It was nothing less than icing on the cake. Will definitely look forward to try more of glass noodle experiments in coming days.


Stir-fried Glass Noodles with crab meat


My meal cannot go through longer if I don’t have my Virgin Mojito by my side. This is one of the most basic drinks one could look for but the catch is not every one makes the perfect mojito. There are very few places in Bangalore who make a good Virgin Mojito to drink. And yet again at Benjarong, I found one of the best Virgin Mojito’s ever. I told my fellow bloggers about the same. It was perfect in every sense.



Virgin Mojito


Other fellow bloggers tried the Tangy Watermelon.

Tangy Watermelon






Next up was, Caramelised fish in Claypot. This was a perfect example of beauty lies in simplicity. No exaggeration with the presentation, very simple but the flavours spoke out loud. It was garnished with spring onions and red chilli. The speciality of this cuisine is it is cooked and then served in the same pot. The Basa fish was again cooked to perfection. The flavours were well soaked in the flesh of fish giving the very reason to indulge more and more. 


Caramelised fish in Claypot

Next on the menu was Green Mung Bean sticky rice was served along with Vietnam Chicken in Coconut gravy. By this time I was full to the neck but still made a point to taste. Honestly speaking, I am not fan of sticky rice and coconut gravy and it would be wrong to say it wasn’t good. It is my personal choice but if you have a liking for sticky rice and coconut gravy this is the cuisine for you – as said by my blogger friend Rumana.



Green Mung Bean sticky rice &
Vietnam Chicken in Coconut gravy


No matter how full you are, there is always a small space that makes way for desserts. We were presented two varieties of desserts, namely: 1) Baked Mung Bean Cake with ice cream and fresh chopped fruits.  2) Crystal steamed Banana Cake served on coconut sauce along with ice cream and fresh fruits.

Speaking about the former, we all found the baked mung bean cake to be a little harder than expected and very less on sweet, which is very different from the Indian style. We spoke to Chef Ramkumar to fing out what was the reason behind it. Chef Ramkumar said ‘We are aware of the Indian style of these desserts but in Vietnam, these desserts are made in a particular way, a bit on the harder side and the people there prefer less sweetness. This being a Vietnamese festival, we did not want to take away the authenticity of the dessert making it Indian way’.



Baked Mung Bean Cake with ice cream and fresh chopped fruits


Moving on to the second dessert, Crystal steamed Banana Cake served on Coconut sauce. The texture and complexity of the dish was eye-pleasing. My choice out of the two is the latter.



Crystal steamed Banana Cake served on coconut sauce along with ice cream and fresh fruits


I never thought that my first experience of Vietnamese cuisine would be such wonderful. One take away from this experience that all bloggers agreed was, you don’t need ample of spices to make the food taste good. The Vietnamese food is directly opposite to our Indian food. Less on spice, high on taste.

After the wonderful food, we made a point to speak to Chef Ramkumar and Chef Nao.  Below, watch Chef Ram speak on a length about the on-going Vietnamese festival at Benjarong.



Flavours of Vietnam started in Bangalore from 23rd July 2014 and will end on 10th August 2014. The price of each dish ranges between Rs. 250-500 each. I highly recommend the Vietnamese Iced coffee, Chicken Noodle Pho soup and stir-fried glass noodles with crab meat. 


Suman

Dreamer, Blogger, Writer, Foodie, Movie buff, Public Relations. Contributor for The New Indian Express and recently started a news publishing website 'Unkrate'.

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