Wednesday, November 16, 2005

VIBRANT VIETNAMESE FLAVOURS

There is more to Vietnamese cuisine than just pho (pronounced ‘fur’), the ubiquitous flat rice noodles with sliced beef and fresh herbs. And the new Sao Nam outlet at Hartamas Shopping Centre is out to prove it with their repertoire of refined Central Vietnamese specialities with a selection of Hanoi's most popular specialities.

Did you know that Hue cuisine is regarded as the best? At the height of its halcyon days during Emperor Tu Duc’s reign (1848 – 1883), many imperial delicacies were meticulously prepared and aesthetically presented in Hue to please the artistically inclined royal. Needless to say culinary artistry were at its peak then.

In the neighbouring city of Hoi An, however, dumplings and noodles were the rage thanks to the influence and presence of Chinese traders who came in the 1700s.

Chef Tran Luong, who has invaluable working experience with renowned restaurants back in Hoi An such as the Mandarin and Emperor, is entrusted with churning out the various house delicacies. Noteworthy starters include the traditional Cha Gio Re (RM16++ for 6 pcs), prawn and chicken spring rolls with home-made wraps, Banh Cuon Hap La Sen (RM22++, 6 pcs), steamed rice rolls with chicken and shrimp mince on lotus leaf and Banh Cuon Tom Ap Chao (RM22++, 6 pcs), fried home-made rice cakes with shrimp mince.

The spring rolls were outstanding for their crispy yet thin, lacey wrapping. Painstakingly made on premise by Chef Tran Luong, the filigree web-like skins bore testimony to the chef’s deft expertise and the hallmark of fine Hue cuisine.

Both the Banh Cuon Hap La Sen and Banh Cuon Tom Ap Chaou bore their nmistakably Chinese influence. The first starter is akin to chee cheong fun (flat rice noodle rolls) but shorter in length and less greasy. Filled with a minced chicken filling and a topping of orange-hued shrimp floss and crispy deep-fried sliced shallots, the rolls are imbued with the delicate scent of its lotus leaf wrapping. Try them with the accompanying sweet bean and peanut dip or fish sauce with minced garlic and chopped chilli for different taste sensations.

Equally memorable is the fried homemade rice cakes with shrimp mince comprises pan-fried squares of thin rice flour wraps enveloping some shrimp mince.

Salads also feature prominently in Vietnamese cuisine with Goi Hoa Chuoi Ga (RM22++) or young banana flower and grilled chicken salad from Hanoi topping the list. We like its invigorating taste and varying textures.

For main dishes, we recommend Bahn Khoai (RM16++), Ga Nuong La Chanh (RM18++) and Vit Nuong Sot Cam (RM32++). Bahn Khoai is a typical Hue specialty of fried open-face pancake with chicken, prawn, fish mousse and bean sprouts. Cut into wedges, this delectable pancake with its various toppings can be enjoyed, wrapped in either fresh lettuce leaves or rice paper lined with a sprig of mint and basil. It is a scrumptious mixture of flavours with crunchy beansprouts and fresh herbs nicely balancing the richer toppings.

Another dish that will find ready acceptance amongst locals is Ga Nuong La Chanh, grilled chicken with kaffir lime leaves. The boneless chicken is succulent and flavourful, with the fine shredded kaffir lime leaves lending it a mouth-watering aroma.

Vietnam’s French colonial heritage comes to the fore in Vit Nuong Sot Cam or crispy duck with orange sauce. Similar to the famed specialty of duck à l’orange, the tender slices of duck breast with a thin layer of fat underneath its skin are aptly complemented by a mild, sweet citrusy sauce that counteracts the meat’s richness.

The Bun Bo Hue (RM14++) is the Hue version of beef noodles in soup. Slightly different from Hanoi’s popular pho bo (beef noodles), this broth is darker, more intense and full-bodied.

The Com Hap La Sen (RM18++) is the Vietnamese take on Chinese hor yip fan (steamed rice in lotus leaf). Redolent with the subtle fragrance of its lotus leaf wrapping and studded with diced chicken, dried shrimp and lotus seeds, this rice dish will probably go down well with less adventurous diners.

Round off your meal with desserts such as Che Khoai Mon (yam and sago in coconut milk, RM8++), Chuoi Chien Cot Dua (banana fritters with coconut milk sauce, RM8++), Che Long Nghan (longans stuffed with lotus seed syrup, RM8++) or Banh Flan Bi (caramel custard in pumpkin, RM16++). Otherwise a glass of Vietnamese drip coffee is just as good.

The outlet adopts a modern, minimalist approach to its décor, incorporating fabric lanterns and large colourful graphic posters. Service is informal but fast. The dishes may seem a little pricey but like its pioneer sister outlet in KL, the new Sao Nam is steadfast in upholding its food quality and taste authenticity.

SAO NAM (pork-free)
Lot P36 2nd Floor
Hartamas Shopping Centre
Plaza Damas, Jalan Sri Hartamas 1
50480 Kuala Lumpur
Reservations:6201 0225

No comments: