A Taste of Vietnam in Mumbai

This blog is about Vietnamese food at a place called Pondicherry Cafe, in Bandra. Geographical disorientation, much? Vietnam has always been on my bucket list of places I want to visit. So when the Sofitel Hotel in Bandra Kurla Complex, hosted a Vietnamese food festival, and invited me to come sample some of the fare, I was elated. I could now cross off Vietnamese food from my bucket list. Vietnam nahi, khana toh sahi. Vietnamese food is known for using fresh, raw produce with tons of local seafood. The food is simple in preparation and taste. 

The Vietnamese Food Festival was held at Pondicherry Cafe, Sofitel Hotel, BKC till the 3rd of June. The menu was specially curated and prepared by Chef Dao Van Son, Executive Sous Chef at Hotel Sofitel Saigon Plaza, Ho Chi Minh. We were lucky to not only get to taste his food, but also meet him and talk to him about Vietnamese food and his passion for cooking. 

Pondicherry Cafe is done up with the most beautiful drapes, gigantic armchairs, and warm colors. In the middle of the regular buffet spread, we got a sneak peak at a traditional, Vietnamese food stall.

Loved the Display!

We got down to the business of eating with a Virgin Lychee Martini. This was a cool, refreshing drink and the taste of lychees really stood out. I would’ve loved for it to be slightly less sweeter, but no major complaints here.

Non-Alcoholic Lychee Martini

The salads looked fresh and packed with colour. All of them had a basic raw fruit- protein combination, which when I asked Chef Dao Van Son, he said was the basic premise of the cuisine. My favourite was the Mango Salad with Chicken. Here semi-raw, mango juliennes, were paired with chicken and birds eye chilli. The mango was a perfect contrast to the blandness of the chicken. 

Mango Salad with Chicken

The Green Papaya with Squid salad was on similar lines. Another fresh and light dish. On similar lines as the Thai Papaya Salad.

Green Papaya Salad with Squid

The other salads were the Glass Noodles Salad with Herbs and the Fruit Salad with Prawns, which I did not taste.

Glass Noodles Salad with Herbs
Fruit Salad with Prawns

Now the one thing I was looking forward to tasting was the traditional Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup. Chef told us that this is a staple food, back in Vietnam, and is eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There was a live counter for the soup where they prepared the steaming soup for us and had it delivered to our table.

Chicken Noodle Soup anyone?

The broth was steaming and filled with chicken flavours. It went well with the noodles and boiled chicken. I found this a bit bland for my palate, however. We added a squeeze of lime and it definitely made a difference. One of the stronger dishes of the night. 

Chicken Noodle Soup

We were pretty ravenous by then, so we attacked the food. Started off with a Seafood Pumpkin Soup. This was too bland, and I’m not a pumpkin fan at all. The only interesting part was the little pieces of fish, shrimp, and squid that were settled at the bottom, which were fun to pick and chew.

Seafood Pumpkin Soup

The Grilled Pork Meat with Spices, were like Vietnamese pork kababs. 

Grilled Pork Meat with Spices

I was expecting a Basa dish, and they did not disappoint. The Basa fish which is a part of every restaurant menu, originated in the shallow waters of Vietnam. The Braised Fish Cake in Tomato Sauce was our favorite for the night, with a sweet-spicy tomato sauce over the fish. 

Braised Fish Cake in Tomato Sauce

The Grilled Chicken with Honey Spices was okay, compared to the fish dish we tasted just prior.

Grilled Chicken with Honey Spices

I skipped the Sauteed Broccoli with Mushroom, because not even my mother can get me to eat broccoli voluntarily.

Sauteed Broccoli with Mushroom

Sauteed Babycorn with Garlic was the other vegetarian option. We paired all of this with Noodles Sauteed with Vegetables, and Fried Rice Vegetables.

Sauteed Babycorn with Garlic
Noodles Sauteed with Vegetables
Fried Rice Vegetables

We were done with our meal, and Chef very graciously sent over a dish he specially prepared for us, which wasn’t on the menu: The Batter Fried Prawns on a Sugarcane Stick.

Batter Fried Prawns on a Sugarcane Stick

The desserts we tried were the Orange, Coffee and Lychee jelly. Again simple, basic, fuss-free desserts which don’t weigh you down.

Assorted Desserts

The conclusion I came to about Vietnamese food that it is easy on the spices, and definitely simpler. It may take some time for the Indian palate to get used to but surely makes for a light, wholesome meal. All in all, experiencing new cuisine is always invigorating, and this was no exception.

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