Hues of Vietnam
A festival that celebrates the withdrawal of American forces from Vietnam is on at Blue Ginger with food fit for a king
Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy
Thirty years ago on April 30, 1975, the city of Saigon was taken over by the communist Vietcong forces. The city was renamed Ho Chi Minh City and the day is a celebrated as a festival called Hue. But here Hue doesn't mean colour, but is the name of a city in central Vietnam. It is a city that was a cultural focal point during ancient times and was the scene of an epic battle between American and communist forces in 1968 during the Tet offensive. The battle led to eventual defeat and withdrawal of American forces, thus the city is one enshrined in Vietnamese history as an important one.
Now the only Vietnamese restaurant in the city, Blue Ginger at the Taj West End, is celebrating this festival with a special menu that showcases Hue. The food is reminiscent of what was eaten by Emperor Tu Due who ruled over the city from 1848 to 1883. He was known to have very fickle tastes and demanded that his chefs prepare for him food that was not eaten by the common man. He is said to even have instructed his chefs to prepare tea only from dew collected from lotus leaves. (Early case of doing the dew, eh?).
Thus chefs were forced to improvise and dishes like sup ga (fragrant peppery chicken soup with lotus seeds), nem ran (crisp, golden brown spring rolls), thit mong (grilled pork in rice paper), bo la lot (pungent beef in wild betel leaves) and cha tm lui mia (minced shrimp wrapped around sugarcane) were born. The dishes were simple but ingenious variations of dishes served in other parts of Vietnam.
Though the menu served at Blue Ginger is not as spectacular as that enjoyed by Emperor Tu, it is quite a sumptuous spread. Designed by Chef Cheung, it is divided into vegetarian and non-vegetarian sections, each with its own salad, grills, soup, main course and desserts. At this point it must be said that the vegetarian spread is as good as the non-vegetarian because Emperor Tu loved vegetarian fare.
The best part of this menu is that one can mix and match vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes as they are priced individually and not as a package. But it makes the job of a food critic no less tough as one has to still get through both the menus.
The salads in the menu are something to savour. Made from pomelo that imparts a unique tangy taste, one can choose from either the squid or vegetable version. The soups are typical spicy offerings that characterise far-eastern cuisine. You can make out the spice only when the aftertaste hits after a couple of seconds. Here you can choose from four soups, with the pick of the lot being the pineapple soup, Hue style, with vegetables. To go with the soups there is the grilled nem Hue and grilled vegetable, Hue style.
The main course is distinctly French, a legacy of a long occupation. Instead of the usual fried rice or noodles you expect, it is steamed bun with red curry. The red curry here is different from the Thai version as it uses coconut milk. The main course also has the standard steamed rice with sautéed French beans.
To top the filling fare there is sweetened syrup with flat rice as dessert. It is another Hue specialty with a distinct taste that gets sweeter as you go down and it is served chilled. The other option is diet ice cream in rose petal, lemon grass and zesty lemon flavours.
Since the quantity served is quite large, a single dish can serve two except the desserts. So, a meal for two would cost approximately Rs. 2,500. For reservations, call 56605660.
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