LIFE
From the streets ofthe Far East

Delectable Saigon Pho, creamy rendang curry, tender coconut ice cream… Va Pho has a slew of Oriental tricks up its sleeve A white bowl is plonked down in front of me. I peer curiously into it — chunks of beef nestled in a bed of rice noodles greet me. Warm, translucent broth is then poured overit, bringing raw onion rings to its surface. I dig in, scrambling desperately into the depths of my bowl, for slippery strands of noodles. None surface, but the spoonful of broth even minus the meat and noodles is singularly good: bones stewed for eight hours with black cardamom, star anise, cumin and patience. “That is Saigon Pho (pronounced Fuh), the national dish of Vietnam,” explains Chef Ram Kumar of Va Pho, the new Asian canteen in the city, adding that the name of the restaurant is inspired by it. Located on Cathedral Road, Gopalapuram, the canteen offers the most popular dishes of nine countries — China, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, The Philippines, Korea, Burma, Malaysia and Singapore. Little bits of all these countries are found in various corners of the colourful, kitschy interiors of the restaurant. A hand-painted, paper umbrella is balanced on a bright yellow bicycle; a bright tuk-tuk greets you at the entrance; dragons and portraits peer at you from the walls. There are board games too, and we pick up and begin a game of jenga. The blocks crash in 10 minutes, nearly upsetting our mocktails, that have just arrived. I gulp down a marvellous combination of coconut water and peach with a dash of cinnamon and lemon juice. My companion’s Miloni Crush is refreshing too, though the pineapple and orange, that are also purportedly part of the drink, are completely lost in a watermelon haze. A Phuket beef satay accompanied by spicy peanut sauce arrives — nice enough, but the flavours are too familiarto be awe-inspiring — it’s what you would get in any Thai restaurant. Ditto forthe mango and papaya salad, while the Kam Heaong broccoli, tossed with curry powder and curry leaves, tasted like an interesting spin on regular Gobi Manchurian. Soon enough two steamer baskets of dim-sums and a plate of baos enter. Forthe carnivore, there is steamed shrimp wrapped and steamed in a thin layer of wheat while the vegetarian version is a distinctly occidental combination of zucchini, corn and cream cheese. While the chicken bao was excellent — the barbecue sauce that coats the meat explodes on yourtongue into caramelly goodness, buffered by fluffy dough, the vegetarian version is a disappointment. The coconut milk clashes horribly with the tofu. The mains now sashay in — Buddha bites (fresh greens tossed with soy in a chilli basil sauce), Priktai on Lamb (stir-fried lamb with young peppercorn and basil sauce), Va Pho rice (an in-house special), Spicy Malay noodles (yellow noodles with chilli sauce, tomatoes and coconut milk) and an Indonesian beef rendang curry with a slab of coconutrice. The noodles and beef curry were my favourites, but the spicy priktati with plenty of crunch and crackle makes a close second. Then comes dessert. First up, is a Burmese falooda, with rice noodles at the bottom instead of vermicelli. The piece de la resistance, however, is the tender-coconut ice cream stick — a popsicle of the aforesaid tender coconut, served with an emulsion of sweetened cream and sago pearls. After all, as Martha Stewart says,“I love dessert. I can’t be guilty about it because I have to taste everything.”

[Source:- The Hindu]

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