Thursday, 8 April 2010

Don't Miss Saigon City

When you think of Vietnam, what's the first thought that springs to mind?

For historians, it might be the war.  For musicians, it might be the musical.  But for me, it's the food.

If you haven't tried Vietnamese food yet, why not?  It's time to raise the curtain on this growing sensation.  Vietnamese food has a complexity of flavors which are simply delicious.

Here is an interesting Vietnamese cookbook to lure you to the table. 

published by HarperCollins, 2001, $27.50

Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table  has been written by a Vietnamese chef, Mai Pham,  with her own Lemon Grass Restaurant in Sacramento, California.  Pictures to accompany the recipes are used sparingly in this book, but don't let that scare you.  The recipes are authentic and each one tells a story.  It is readily apparent the author is passionate about her native food and that passion shines through in each and every recipe.  No detail is too small for this book.  She wants you to have an authentic Vietnamese food experience in your own kitchen with the help of this book.  It's a prize.

To give you a snapshot of authentic Vietnamese food, the Englishman and moi went to Saigon City - in Bromley, not Vietnam - our new local authentic (and now favorite) Vietnamese restaurant.  

Although my chopstick skills are underwhelming, I was able to make a connection between the food and my mouth.  Every bite sang with flavor and it was sensational.

The owner took time to have a chat about Vietnamese food with us.  He said that Vietnamese food lies somewhere between Chinese and Thai food, if you were to put it on a spectrum.  These foods all might share common ingredients, but I have to say that Vietnamese food has its own delightful personality.

Stock is a very important part of Vietnamese cooking.  Clear stock is good, cloudy is not so good.  The chef chatted with us, too.  He said the stock needs to cook s-l-o-w-l-y.  No shortcuts such as stock cubes then, if you want authenticity.  

Meats are more subtly flavored due to their marinating - a common practice in Vietnamese cooking.  In other words, Vietnamese meat isn't hiding under a spoonful of sauce.  It has been tenderly marinated and infused with flavor.  

North Vietnamese food tends to be savory while South Vietnamese food tends to be sweeter.  The spicy food can be found in the middle region of Vietnam.  (The food in this restaurant is Southern Vietnamese.)

Above all, proper authentic Vietnamese food is fresh.  As the owner told us, eat fresh and taste the difference.  Boy, is he ever right about that.

Here is how I would sum up Vietnamese food:  it has depth like a George Gershwin rhapsody combined with intensity like a Gene Kelly dance number.  In other words, Vietnamese food is a showstopper!


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