by Geraldine Rullan-Borromeo
(Manila City, Philippines)
Four countries, one table: An Asian culinary journey
Friday, 27 July 2012 00:00
A culinary adventure in Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia all in one sitting is what the Marriot Manila’s “Flavors of Asia” is all about. Until the end of July, four chefs from different hotel properties are highlighting their culinary heritage at the Marriot Cafe buffet, each chef having his own station to showcase his country’s best cuisine.
Thai chef Thanathorn Krobsuay from the JW Marriott Bangkok brings with him his classic specialties, tom yum goong mae nang, one of the best soups of its kind in the metro — the sweet, spicy, salty and sour broth a perfect balance of flavors with the fresh galangal and kaffir lime leaves.
He brings with him his new menu with items such as deep-fried sea bass with chili sauce, sautéed squid with pineapple and cucumber, and braised beef spiced with turmeric and coconut.
Krobsuay’s chicken in green curry with basil leaves is a testament to what a skilled chef can do with very few and very simple ingredients. The coconut sauce is heady as it is packed with the flavors of the kaffir leaves, and the richness of the sauce is the perfect foil for the eggplant slight bitterness.
The headiness and richness of the coconut cream counterweigh the judicious use of ginger and curry. The cubed tender chicken absorbs the coconut sauce and the ginger flavor. This is so good I cannot forego eating it with my nemesis, the innocent white plump rice.
Chef Ruhizad Muri hails from the Renaissance Kuala Lumpur Hotel, Malaysia. Nyonya cuisine blends galangal, turmeric, ginger roots, pandan, lime, laksa leaves, lemon, lime, tamarind and green mango with shrimp paste and chilies to create a distinct Malayan flavor profile that stands out from the rest of Asia although still redolent of its culinary influences.
The grilled shrimp, lamb, beef, chicken and pork are made by Muri with authentic heat. Yet the spiciness is tempered by the sweetness and sourness of the tamarind with the crunch of ground peanuts adding texture and earthiness to the strong flavors.
Chef Phan Thien Hoa, a native of Ho Chi Minh City, is the chef de partie of the Renaissance Riverside Saigon. His Vietnamese spring rolls, goi cuon, is chewy soft transluscent rice wrappers filled with lettuce, mint, cilantro, julienned carrots, shrimps, tofu, chicken and beef.
The roll is refreshing and light and Hoa’s dipping sauce made with lime juice, fish sauce, a dash of sugar and garlic chili is addictive. Stopping myself from picking up one roll after another is not easy as I justify it with the thought that the roll is mostly made of the fiber of vegetables.
Indonesian-Javanese-born junior sous chef Dadang Wahyudi of JW Marriot Jakarta is masters the transformation of a few ingredients into stellar dishes. His pan-fried sea bass fillets lay on a platter with a turmeric ginger sauce and sauteed slivers of red bell peppers and onion. At a glance it looks like any other elegantly plated fish dish. I automatically reach for it first as fish is my preferred choice of protein while on my perpetual diet.
The subtle flavors of the turmeric, lemon, chili, shallots and ginger roll around my palate as the tender sweet fish flakes to the bite. My eyes widen as I take the flavors in and commend the set of skills that Wahyudi applied to make this excellent fish dish. Fish of this calibre deserves a special mention as it is not an everyday dining experience one can claim to have even in the most expensive of restaurants in the city.
Another Indonesian dish with a flavor profile that confounds me is the beef stew that seems like a cross between a rendang and a red curry. The meat has absorbed all the sauce’s spices from the long, slow cooking, and the richness of the dish is another diet breaker as the white rice begs to be paired with it.
Wahyudi also prepares a Balinese favorite, the bebek betutu klungkung, a duck dish that has a pungent sauce offsetting the gaminess of the crisp, fried duck fillets. It is a new take on the usual roasted duck platter and a welcome variation from the Oriental staple.
For drinks, Thailand’s lemongrass Juice, Vietnam’s nuoc chanh (lime and mint juice), Malaysia’s famous teh tarik (milk tea), and the most surprising Indonesia’s jus apolkat, an avocado chocolate drink, are all refreshing and give just reprieve to the spicy dishes.
Dessert offerings feature a sweet from the countries of said chefs. Whether it be Thai egg custard with pumpkin, sweet yet healthy and a visual treat; classic sticky rice with ripe mangoes; refreshing pandan leaf jelly; or comfort food desserts banana cake or banana in sweet coconut milk, one will find the Asian sweet that matches the craving for a sweet ending.
For inquiries or reservations, call Marriott Café at 988-9999.
Published in Life Style