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Vietnam comes to town

The new Vietnamese restaurant at the Taj West End, Blue Ginger, has an exotic range of dishes



Vietnamese food has the influence of Thailand, Cambodia, India, and China

BANGALORE HAS done it again — it has become the first city in India to have a restaurant devoted solely to Vietnamese cuisine. While the city went about taking in its Thai, Arabian, Chinese, and Indian foods, the charming Paradise Island at the Taj West End quietly metamorphosed into an even prettier place — Blue Ginger.

Surrounded by a hyacinth pond, Blue Ginger is a symphony of lights by night. The fire-torches in huge cauldrons light up the area, while silk lanterns dance delicately from above. Artefacts from Vietnam show guests a glimpse of the culture of the country. Silk cushions in bright colours, silk bound menu cards, stylish tableware, and chairs made of water hyacinth fibre create a fine ambience. Three Vietnamese musicians perform live. And international lighting expert, Tony Corbett, creates magic with mood lighting at the Blue Ginger.

But I had my first Vietnamese meal at the Blue Ginger, when the city was at its hottest. No mood lighting, no fire flames, no live music, just good food. "But Vietnamese cuisine is one of the healthiest, and least oily," said Mr. Tan, the owner of the Blue Ginger chain of restaurants. "Our cuisine shows the influence of Thailand, Cambodia, India, and China," added his pretty wife. They were in town to launch the Blue Ginger brand, at the Taj West End. The property, flush with the satisfaction of having won the Government of India's National Tourism Award, recently renovated 40 guest rooms, added a coffee shop called Mynt, and made its lobby more attractive.

Enter the Blue Ginger. Chef Sandeep Kachroo recommends the Blue Ginger Mocktail. If you don't have a cuisine consultant at your elbow like I had, then the tangy, sparkling blue lime-and-ginger drink is a must, while you browse through the menu. "We've tried to keep the menu simple. No unpronounceable Vietnamese words," says Chef Kachroo, who spent two months in Vietnam along with a colleague. "We took off on our motorbike at 6 a.m. each day, visited little eateries, observed the way people ate and cooked and got back to work at the Ho Chi Minh City's Blue Ginger by 10 a.m.," recalls the chef.

We give the soups a miss and start off with the raw mango salad. "Scoop this grated raw mango, carrot, and cucumber marinated in soya sauce salad into these vegetarian crackers, and listen to the hiss..." The culinary experience begins with the hiss. And though Vietnamese cuisine is predominantly non-vegetarian, and dominantly seafood, Blue Ginger has a wide selection of vegetarian fare in everything, from soups, salads, starters, to the main course. "The vegetables are fresh, and lightly sautéed, never boiled," says the Chef, who is assisted in the kitchen by Chef Loan from Central Vietnam and Chef Tu from Northern Vietnam.

While I take in the giant porcelain vases set on the granite skirting of the restaurant, the attentive staff bring in the spring rolls. Tofu and vegetables rolled in rice paper, good. Deep fried, bad. But wrapped generously with lettuce and basil? Ah, what a lovely way to balance out the calorie intake! The rice and baguettes, a legacy of the colonial past, come in. These are to be eaten with various gravies.

We opt for the trio of mushroom braised with caramel pepper sauce. The fresh green pepper really, umm... peps up the meal. The mixed vegetarian yellow cari with broccoli and other crisp vegetables cooked with coconut milk and tender coconut water does remind one of the Kerala stew. Next comes the lotus stem pancakes with chilli lemon grass sauce. A warm, crisp pancake, topped with sauce is pure ambrosia.

Vietnamese cuisine relies heavily on its sauces and condiments to provide the flavouring. Southern Vietnam has the mildest sauces, while the going gets harsher as one moves up the country towards China. But, at Blue Ginger, Bangalore, everything is made with the Indian palate in mind.

"We've adapted the recipes to suit our clientele," said Hemant Oberoi, the Executive Chef of the Taj Group of Hotels, at a press conference. And so, there's a whole range of exotic Vietnamese dishes such as five spice roast duck, lemon grass pork, grilled lobster satay, sautéed squid with zucchini, which my non-vegetarian friend enjoyed greatly.

I finished my meal with mung bean ice cream — ground green gram, roasted and churned with ice cream. Definitely exotic, unlike what it sounds!

For details call 56605660.

MALA KUMAR

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