Wherever you may pho: Vietnam comes to Chennai with some rare treats at this food festival
There's a tiny nook of Hanoi tucked away off the busy Cathedral Road, in Kanakasri Nagar of Gopalapuram, in Chennai.
You might not at first spot any buildings with Buddhish pagodas, or tricycle rickshaws, cyclos or handcarts, or even the generally ubiquitous, conical nón lá leaf hats here.
But that’s really because this isn’t ’Nam itself. Though a few relics of the republic are evident here too — notably, an antique radio snuck into a far wall, which we imagine once had the late Robin Williams blaring, ‘Goooood mooorning, Vietnaaam!’
It’s all in the ’Nam
At the Va Pho Asian Canteen, all things Vietnam get ample room for attention — never mind that the autorickshaw sawn in half at the entrance bears a faded Bajaj insignia, and the bicycle on a wall was really brought off a street in Chennai, rather than Saigon.
Thankfully, the food here is as authentic as you’d expect. For the ongoing Vietnamese food festival, the restaurant has brought in a handful of off-the-menu treats, we’re told — some of which might just be included as a part of their main bill of fare, given the popular demand.
To put together these treats, Va Pho went out of its way to fly in some prized ingredients all the way from Vietnam — topmost among them are a special variety of rice paper, of a much superior grade than you’d get anywhere else.
This rice paper, even when left out on a humid noon, is not likely to wither and get softened, we’re assured by resident Chef Karthick.
The other major import, we learn, is the Vietnamese food specialist, Chef Nguyen Thi Nho — who has come over to the city for the course of the festival, armed with her knives and toque blanche, to whip up some true flavours from the streets of 'Nam. And she isn’t one to disappoint.
Cam on over, baby
Our first round of appetisers gave us a sample of those prized rice papers in a round of chicken spring rolls that turned out as crisp and crackling as fluent Vietnamese from a smiling street vendor in Hanoi.
Almost to counter the crunch of this round, we were served a portion of soft rolls, stuffed with some delightfully fresh prawns, and a nutty dip that had us instantly bow down to the chef, and whisper a soft, thank you.
For a note: in the said language, you’d offer a slightly accented 'cam on' (literally, ‘thank you’) in whispered words of gratitude.
But here, we were left gushing the words like a rickshaw puller blowing off steam, bellowing ‘Come on! Come on!’ — all in good humour, in a way that made our waitress giggle.
Pho-ever and ever
Looking around, we found that the fest has found many a family for patrons, complete with aunts and kids in tow. We’re duly reminded that this is as close as you’ll get to that true street food experience.
The highlight of our meal was, without a doubt, a serving of the Beef Pho — and, one bowl is really enough to fill two tummies on any given afternoon. Over added helpings of the essential glass noodles, and selections from the grills on a platter, we were only too happy to wash everything down with a glass of iced coffee.
For a grand finale to our feast, we had a special sweet tapioca dessert, with diced fruit and ice cream on the side, leaving us with a permanent smile on our faces.
But before we bid goodbye, we had to make note — none of this would have tasted as good without the friendly and charming service.
For that, we doff our invisible hats, and say in deep appreciation, 'Cam on'.
The Vietnamese food fest is on till November 30. Meal for two INR 1,200.