BENGALURU: ‘Of all the stories in the world, the best stories are found between the pages of a passport’! While the rigorous training at culinary school lays the basic foundation for our profession, it is our expeditions through the country and across continents that leads our discovery of new cultures, foods, ingredients, techniques and much more. My travels have been no different!
Sojourns across South-east Asia have left an indelible impression, influencing both, my style of cooking and menu planning. Interestingly, South-east Asian cuisine comes with a whole lot of ‘unsuals’. Consider the concept of serving in bowls, whereby the bowl serves as a complete meal in itself!
By virtue of expediency and exquisiteness, the Vietnamese Pho, Burmese Khowsuey and Singaporean Laksa, all bowl meals, have reached tables of leading restaurants across the globe.
Another lasting gastronomic influence in my life came from my five year stint in the beautiful Maldivian islands, where I picked up the art of contrasting flavours, textures and temperatures. I had the pleasure of tasting a local specialty - a yellow fish curry served with rice and crisp drumstick leaves. The taste and texture of the meal linger on, and have, in fact, become the basis for a whole lot of innovations.
One such dish on our menu, which, in the true sense is a culmination of these learnings, is the Hu-Tieu-Sai-Gon!
Hu tieu (spiced noodle soup) is a traditional Vietnamese dish specific to southern Vietnam. This ‘bowl meal’ is a perfect balance of spiciness from chilies, sweetness from jaggery, sourness from tamarind and the crunch from fried peanuts! To prepare Hu-Tieu- Sai-Gon, make a stock of fresh veggies along with spices such as garlic, star anise, ginger, cinnamon and chopped lemongrass and bring to a boil. Strain the broth and put back on the boil. Add a homogenous mix of coconut milk, peanut butter, mushroom oyster sauce, light soy to the broth.
For the toppings, use blanched vegetables and cooked rice vermicelli in boiling water for not more than a minute. To assemble, add boiled rice vermicelli in a soup bowl. Top it up with the blanched vegetables, crispy onion and garlic slices. Pour the boiling broth over this and serve alongside shredded lettuce, sliced tomatoes, sprouts, basil leaves, chilli and lime wedges.
Like all my journeys, thus far, I wish to continue the exploration of the myriad nooks in this world that lead me to less travelled culinary havens and ultimately to the discovery of life itself.
— Sandip Narang,Executive Chef, Taj West End