Oriental Express | Verve Magazine
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Wine & Dine
April 15, 2014

Oriental Express

Text by Sonal Ved

The Far East has a plethora of flavours, some of which are yet to get mainstream attention. Find out the key ingredients that go into the cooking pots in Vietnam, Tibet and Japan; along with two great recipes!

  • Crispy Wasabi Prawns
    Crispy Wasabi Prawns
  • Vietnamese-seasonal-vegetable-spring-roll-with-tofu-seasonal-greens-and-hoisin-sauce
    Vietnamese seasonal vegetable spring roll
  • Bento Box
    Bento Box
  • Salmon Nigiri Sushi
    Salmon Nigiri Sushi
  • Vietnamese Fried Rice
    Vietnamese fried rice

Fresh from Vietnam
Vietnamese cuisine is known to be just like its topography – mild and pleasant. According to Chef Rahul Kaushik from Mekong restaurant at The Palladium Hotel, “Rice flour noodles, fish sauce, fresh mushrooms such as straw and shemiji rule the roost in a typical Vietnamese kitchen.” With most mains and appetisers using at least one of these ingredients.

Also known as ‘jungle’ cuisine, Vietnamese fare uses everything fresh that grows around the forests and rivers in this region. Chef Kaushik says, “The best feature of this cuisine is that they not only use greens such as basil, coriander, morning glory and mint to flavour food, they also use leaves of pandan and lotus to wrap, cook and serve their food.” While the entire cuisine is mainly rustic, most of its trends come from its capital Hanoi, which is heavily influenced by Chinese food.

What connects Vietnamese cuisine to our own fare is the ample usage of mung, known as ‘moong’ in India. “Not only do they use it in soups, curries and stews, they also have a dessert of mung, coconut and sticky rice that is a popular street food,” says Chef Kaushik. Apart from this pudding, the sago pudding and coconut and pandan crepes are two popular desserts from this region.

The Tibetan Kitchen
Just the way an Indian larder is incomplete without spices, Tibetan kitchens are abundant with ingredients such as noodles, goat and yak milk, mutton and Tibetan cheese. According to Chef Sahil Arora from Jaipur Marriott, the cuisine of Tibet is fairly simple. “With crops such as rice, oranges, mustard, barley, bananas and lemons found around this region, most food is flavoured with these humble ingredients.”

While most of Tibet’s common dishes such as shaphaley, a bread stuffed with beef, or tsampa, millet dumplings, have local reach, two have achieved global acceptance. “They are thukpa, a stew of vegetables and meats and momos which are stuffed dumplings found easily on the streets of Mumbai and Delhi,” says Chef Arora.

Just like Italian cuisine which varies from North to South, Tibetan food too changes as you go from one region to another. While Northern Tibet is laid back with a fondness for traditional fare, Southern Tibet is heavily influenced by the glitz of Chinese food of the Sichuan region. “And no meal in any part of this country is complete without cups of silken butter tea consumed for its beauty benefits,” smiles Arora.

Japan on a platter
Indian metros have had their fair share of Japanese flavours, yet there are things about the cuisine that are little known to even the most ardent of Jap food lovers. Predictably, the most common ingredients in a Japanese kitchen are their trademark sushi rice which is small and grainy, the wasabi root that delivers pungent flavours to food, cuts of salmon, tuna fish and seaweed.

Chef Toshiyuki Okabe from Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai thinks that Japanese food can loosely be divided into sushi, sashimi, teriyaki and teppanyaki. While sushi and sashimi (delicacy consisting of fresh raw fish sliced into thin strips) are delicacies, the latter two are cooking techniques. To elaborate, teppanyaki uses an iron griddle, while teriyaki is made using a piquant sauce and some broiled meats and veggies.

Though Japanese cuisine doesn’t alter from one region to another, it has an extensive multi course dinner called the kaiseki that is followed almost across Japan. “It consists of sakizuke which is the appetiser course, followed by hassun and mokuzoke (the sashimi course) and takiwase where vegetables are served with meat, fish or tofu. All eaten at once!” says Okabe.

Vietnamese fried rice
Ingredients: Cooked rice, 1 cup; Carrots (diced), 1 tbsp; Sweet corn (boiled) 1 tbsp; Gherkin, 2 tsp; Chicken breast (boiled and diced), 2 tbsp; Prawns (boiled), 1 tbsp; Eggs, 1; Oil, 30 ml; Salt and pepper to taste; Fried onion for garnish; Lotus leaf, 1
Method: In a wok, heat oil. Add egg and scramble it. Add all the vegetables, chicken, prawns and toss until well mixed. Add rice, salt and pepper and give it a final toss. Garnish with shallots and wrap it in lotus leaf. Serve warm.

Salmon Nigiri Sushi
Ingredients: Salmon, 60 gm; Sushi vinegar, 2 tbsp; Castor sugar, 1/2 tbsp; Salt, 1 tsp; Sushi rice, 60 gm; Wasabi, 5 gm
Method: Cook rice in hot water and strain. In a pan mix rice vinegar, castor sugar and salt and add the rice to it. Fold in well and allow the rice to sit until it gains a strong vinegary flavour. Take a pinch of this rice and form oblong pillows. Press the rice together. Since it’s quite sticky, the grains will easily come together. Dab wasabi on top of the rice and place a piece of salmon on top. Press it gently from top and serve cold with soy sauce and wasabi paste.

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