The taste of two nations-A A +A
Friday, June 8, 2012
VISITING Thailand or Vietnam without ever trying their street food would be like coming to Cebu and never tasting the island’s famous lechon. The street food culture in those two countries is vibrant, and it is in their street stalls where one can taste authentic Thai and Vietnamese cuisine prepared the traditional way.
Carmel Therese Almadrones, who studied at the Le Cordon Bleu Dusit Culinary School in Bangkok, wants to bring the Thai and Vietnamese street food experience to her hometown.
This she does through her new restaurant, Little Saigon Big Bangkok.
The restaurant offers a fusion of the two cuisines, with most of the dishes of the Thai variety. It is located in the front yard of Carmel’s home in Barangay Guadalupe, Cebu City, making its ambience a fusion as well. It is homey and, at the same time, the al fresco dining gives it the “street vibe” she aims for.
“Everything we have here is the food we love eating,” Carmel said, from the well-known Thai dishes like pad thai, tom yum goong, satay, to the more unfamiliar ones (those that are hard to find in Cebu) like the mieng kam.
Carmel said that by combining the tastes of the two, she is blending the “boldness” of Thai flavor and the “simplicity” of Vietnamese culinary preparation.
For those who are new to the taste of Thai food, they can best be acquainted with it by starting with the mieng kam, a Thai snack. Literally meaning “eating many things in one bite,” it is a tiny treat of vegetables, herbs and spices wrapped together in a leaf.
“It is for the diners to understand Thai food’s four elements: sweet, sour, salty and spicy,” Carmel explained.
The restaurant’s other Thai specialties are the som tum or papaya salad and the tod mun or fish cake. Then there’s satay or skewered meat paired with Carmel’s delicious peanut sauce.
For the Vietnamese side of its menu, the must-tries are the pho bo and the bun cha.
Pho bo is beef and vermicelli noodle soup that Carmel has made more flavorful by using bone marrow in its broth.
Bun cha, on the other hand, is an interesting culinary experience in itself. It is a huge platter with small bowls containing leafy vegetables, rice noodles, grilled meatballs, papaya and the nuoc mam cham (mixed fish sauce). Then it is up to the diner to mix whatever ingredients he or she prefers, then wrap them using one of the leaves.
It is a mAeal that perfectly represents the “simplicity” and “freshness” of Vietnamese cuisine.
As for the desserts, Little Saigon Big Bangkok serves the popular sticky rice pudding and the luk chup, which is fruit and vegetable shaped mung beans sweetened with coconut milk.
Carmel takes pride in using only fresh ingredients in her food; that is why its menu varies every day, as it will depend on the fresh ingredients available.
“We decide the menu of the day at 10 a.m.,” said Carmel. Interested diners can view the day’s menu at the restaurant’s website.
Carmel added that if diners are craving for Thai and Vietnamese dishes that are not found in the menu, they can request for it prior to their visit.
To add to the authentic taste of her creations, Carmel also uses the same ingredients her Thai and Vietnamese counterparts use. “We have a little farm at the back where we planted some of the hard-to-find ingredients,” she said. Her backyard has been planted with the different kinds of cilantro, basils and chilies, plus galangal herb and Kaffir lime.
With Little Saigon Big Bangkok only a taxi ride away, one can already experience the age-old culinary traditions of Thailand and Vietnam. No need for plane rides, no need for passports—only an adventurous appetite ready for a gastronomic journey.
Little Saigon Big Bangkok is at 2175 Villalon Subdivision, Andres Abellana Ext., Barangay Guadalupe. It is open from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. from Tuesdays to Sundays.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on June 09, 2012.