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Festival of fiery Asian fare.

I HAVE never known people give so much attention to a spring roll before. But this was nothing like the crispy little concoction usually offered as a starter at your local Chinese restaurant.

The Goi cuon, or fresh Vietnamese spring roll, is a little work of cuisine art; succulent, refreshing and incredibly tasty when dipped into a cool peanut and coconut sauce C* and without a deep fat fryer in sight.

Diners queued up at Bahrain's Ma...venpick Hotel to watch pretty Chef Thuy, visiting from the company's sister property in Saigon with two others to take part in this week's first Vietnamese Food Festival, delicately stretching and placing thin rice paper into wraps.

These tiny packages containing a perfect combination of lettuce, noodles and prawns tasted heavenly and were a unique introduction to a fabulous fare being dished up until Sunday.

Every evening, the streets of Saigon are filled with countless food stalls and during the festival they are coming alive at Silks restaurant and its adjoining tropical garden-style terrace.

Vietnamese cuisine is considered one of the healthiest options served in Asia thanks to those celebrated spring rolls, noodle soups and wok fried specialties.

The salads in particular are sensational with just a hint of chilli and garlic flavouring such as Goi du du, a green papaya salad and prawns with pomelo salad, known in Vietnam as Goi buoi tron tom.

I was feeling quite brave at this stage and wandered over to a soup station manned by Chef Tai, busy steaming rice noodles to mix with the freshly-cooked chicken plucked from the carcass.

'Make it spicy', I requested, as the fare up to this point had been fairly mild mannered, not like the Thai cuisine I'd sampled at an earlier Asian food festival.

I sat down, took a spoonful of chicken, liquid and red chilli and my head sort of exploded. I felt like, and according to the good lady wife, Kathryn, resembled Popeye after he's consumed some spinach.

As steam exited through my ears I consumed a gallon of water and by that time my mouth and throat had sufficiently sealed and I was ready to devour the rest of the dish.

Very, very nice and very, very hot C* just watch out for those killer chillies!

I was almost ready for the main course and looked in the direction of the BBQ station, when Ryan, our erstwhile photographer came running over and pointed me in the direction of the frog legs.

Now, I've had my fair share of frog legs in France and the skinny little specimens have never really impressed my palate. However, these frogs must have signed up to their own little Vietnamese Dream Body Centre. These critters were chunky, chewy and filling.

I still left room for a helping of exquisite King Fish, an absolutely mouth-watering dish and the biggest fish I've ever seen emerge from a kitchen, with some fried rice.

As well as highlighting Vietnamese food, general manager Heinz Kraehenbuehl told me the hotel was also supporting the Ma...venpick Hotel Saigon and Ma...venpick Hotel Hanoi's support of the incredible Koto charity.

The Koto organisation provides training on life skills and hospitality skills for street children, giving them an opportunity to find work in the hotel industry and stable jobs to help support themselves and their families.

The festival also aims to promote Vietnam as a tourist destination. Every diner will get the chance to win a dream holiday to Saigon by completing a questionnaire.

The hotel has teamed up with Emirates Airline to offer a three-night stay at its sister property.

There is also the chance to take Vietnamese cooking classes today, tomorrow or Saturday and learn from the experts. Classes start at 11am and last for two hours, including lunch at BD12.500++ (strictly limited to 10 participants).

The authentic Vietnamese buffet -- eat as much as you like for BD15.000++ per person is served from 7pm until 11pm at Silks restaurant and terrace.

For more details call 1746 0000 or email

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Publication:Gulf Weekly
Geographic Code:9VIET
Date:Nov 14, 2012
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