Thursday, May 25, 2017

Vietnamese Dinner with Peckish, Mumbai

The home chef scene in Mumbai is buzzing and in all the noise there are some who leave a lasting impression. Aparna Surte who runs Peckish is one. I met Aparna at a couple of home chef meets and events and finally had the chance to sit at her table for a Vietnamese dinner thanks to my very dear friend Manisha.

I've never eaten Vietnamese food but have read and seen so much about it online, and heard friends discuss it, I had a reasonable idea what to expect. So I looked forward to meeting a bunch of my food enthusiast friends and an evening of new flavours.

We started the meal with Cha Pe Sua Da - Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk. This had been made with cold brew coffee and a VERY generous slug of condensed milk. And I really mean very generous! I didn't stir mine too vigorously because I'm not too fond of strongly sweet things (and thanks to being diabetic and therefore not having a lot of sugar anyway, I'm hypersensitive to sweet). The coffee was lovely and being an instant coffee loving barbarian I was surprised how much I liked it. There's much to be recommended about the cold brewing technique and I'm going to learn it soon.

Aparna made us more coffee later in the evening and she customised mine with just a fraction of the condensed milk she would use normally - and it was perfect.

Vietnamese Cold Coffee

After coffee came the first appetiser - Bahn Mi Lettuce Wraps. Crisp ice berg with pickled veg, Asian spiced minced pork, herbs and a spicy Asian mayo. I'm always wary of 'salad-y' wraps because they're invariably stuffed with raw tomatoes and cucumbers. Aparna made mine without the pickled cucumbers and I could honestly have eaten two of these - the only reason I didn't was there was a lot more food coming up in the meal!

The next appetiser was Nem Cuon - Vietnamese spring rolls with shrimp served with Nuoc Cham, a beautifully tangy dipping sauce, which I consumed in copious quantities! These were among the prettiest foods I have ever seen. See through rice paper wraps stuffed with pickled veggies, fine rice noodles, herbs, and shrimp.

While I totally loved the sophistication of the nuoc cham, the nem cuon felt unbalanced. Too much of the fine rice noodles in the wrap ruined the balance and masked the flavours of the other ingredients. I would have liked half the quantity of noodles/vermicelli in the wrap which otherwise would have been fantastic.

Next up was Pho, albeit a vegetarian one. Such a famous dish and I was a teeny bit disappointed that it was vegetarian, till it was served. The mushroom-y broth was surprisingly flavourful and I lapped up every last drop. This pho had mushrooms, bok choy, tofu, chillies, and rice noodles.

After the pho we took a break. Phew!

Then came the main course - Pork Bun Cha. This was pork meat balls served over rice, drizzled with garlic scallion oil, accompanied by pickled veggies, lettuce, herbs, and nuoc cham on the side. For me this was the star dish of the evening in close contest with the lettuce wraps. Yes I'm biased, both had pork in them. But they were flavourful and beautifully balanced and I thoroughly enjoyed both.

Succulent juicy meatballs smothered in an Asian sauce with sweet notes, the hit of garlic from the oil, the crunch of the lettuce and the pickled veggies, all worked together to make a wonderful bowl of food.

Next up was dessert - Che Chuoi, a plantain, coconut cream, and tapioca pearl dessert. Though I didn't have any (I'd feasted on enough carbs through the meal and being diabetic I choose savoury carbs over sweet desserts) going by the reactions of the others at the table this was a hit. Ermm.. the hubby had two. I guess I needn't say more about how good this was!

This was one of the most enjoyable dining experiences I've had in a long time. The anticipation of trying something new and finding it to be quite up one's street - it was good. While this was a non vegetarian meal I liked the fact that it was full of vegetables  and wasn't very meat heavy. It suited the hot summer of Mumbai perfectly.

Another thing I really liked is the fact that Aparna knew her food and the cuisine she was serving, and was able to answer our questions quite capably. It's easy to whip out the phone and ask Google but getting that information from your host and having a discussion while eating what you're talking about is just incomparable. I think that really added to my experience at this meal.

If you have the chance go for Aparna's pop up events, you won't be disappointed. 

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