Sunday, 03/07/2022 09:09

Spice up your life with a taste of India

SIMPLE DECOR: The spacious dining room of India has air-con and is decorated with Indian motifs.

by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà

After two years of COVID, we finally had our first trip to an Indian restaurant. Our familiar Indian restaurants in the Old Quarter and downtown are open and survived the pandemic.

But we ventured further afield into the Trung Hòa - Nhân Chính neighbourhood, yet another vibrant new town with many restaurants and eateries catering to every palate. 

It would be about a half-hour ride by car from the town centre during lunch hour if the traffic is not too bad, and a lunch date so far away would take up at least two hours of your time, so carefully consider it if you still have lots of unfinished work in the afternoon.  

SPICY TREAT: Cottage cheese on a cast iron pan with onions.VNS Photos Minh Huyền

In Việt Nam, we come from a very different culinary tradition, where the food needs to be simple and retain as much of its original flavours as possible. The morning glory must taste very different from the gourd's young buds, boiled or stir-fried. Even cooked rice has always been simple and flavourless compared to the varied Indian ways of cooking rice.

When we first had a curry cooked the Indian way, we were blown away by the chaos of flavours and tastes: the eggplant, the fish, the mutton and the chicken masala all tasted different after marinating and soaking in a bath of about 10 ingredients all finely blended. It was superb. 

The pinnacle of every Indian meal we have had was, and shall always be, the delicate Indian bread, or naan, as it's called. Flavoured with garlic or plain, the naan is a plain carb that serves to bring all other dishes and flavours together. Baked in an oven, the naan invariably has a few burnt spots that make it both smell and taste good. 

Another experience in having Indian food is you get to use your hands. When you touch your food, it brings a certain closeness to the food, and you can be quite thankful to have such a connection with the food.

For starters, we had plain dosa (a super thin cracker -- VNĐ75,000) and medu vada (doughnuts with dipping sauce -- VNĐ70,000). 

Our friend insisted we try a particular super-thin type of special Sri Lankan bread called hoppers (VNĐ120,000). Made from coconut milk, rice flour, beer, yeast and sugar, the hoppers require quite a certain degree of skills to make them perfect. They also look beautiful on the table, and I highly recommend them.

Next, we had paneer tikka (VNĐ110,000) with cottage cheese, which we liked because it reminded us of thick pressed tofu. 

Then, after playing around with so many options of appetisers, we dived into the main courses. The chicken tikka masala (VNĐ130,000) had a heavy sauce with intense flavours, while the Bangan masala (eggplant) was great and has always been my favourite veg.

To accompany the dish, an Indian lassi with banana or mango would have been perfect. But the house had a big party the day before, so they had run out of yoghurt, which we were a little saddened by.

To many Vietnamese, India is the birthplace of Buddhism, the religion with the largest number of followers in Việt Nam. But in India, Buddhism had less than 1 per cent of followers despite it being a native religion, and most still live below the poverty line and lack many basic amenities like clean water and adequate food supply. 

Around the Bodh Gaya religious site, many Buddhist countries have built pagodas. We visited a Vietnamese pagoda there, where the monk told us he spent his working life in a government-owned company. After retiring, he turned to Buddhism, became a monk and now spent his time building schools, and setting up water supply systems for children in India, just like I am sure he would do for Vietnamese children in remote villages in our home country. 

As we recalled the trip to India just a few months before COVID struck in 2019, I was grateful to find out that a member of our group in her 80s had gone on such a trip with her adopted son, an act of kindness I believe that is greater than any study or preaching of right and wrong. Kindness, after all, is what binds us together. 

I soon had to leave Spices Hanoi to go to another appointment, but I shall come back to immerse myself again in the atmosphere and spices of the land and the vastness of a spiritual country that, surely, anyone would love to set foot in. VNS

Spices Hanoi

17 T5, P. Hoàng Đạo Thúy, Trung Hòa Nhân Chính, Thanh Xuân, Hà Nội

Tel: 024 6251 1555

Comment: Great Indian food cooked in the traditional style

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