Thien Duong at the Dusit Hotel is the only fine-dining Vietnamese restaurant in Manila to be located in a hotel. Last Saturday, it held a one-day buffet in celebration of the Chinese New Year. The restaurant was so booked that when we made a reservation a few days before, we had to pay a 50% deposit.
Vietnamese cuisine can be divided into three distinctive regional cuisines: southern, central, and northern. The south sustains rice paddies, so there’s a wide variety of fresh herbs and complex tropical flavors. Food from the center is spicier, with an abundance of fresh produce. The north displays its Chinese influence through stir-fries and noodle-based soups. French colonization of Vietnam, which began in the 16th century and ended in the middle of the 20th century, also had a deep influence on Vietnamese cooking. The cuisine balances all these influences.
The final tastes in a Vietnamese meal are determined by the diner. A table salad is always present, accompanied by plenty of condiments; there’s the ubiquitous native fish sauce (nuoc nam) and dipping sauce, nuoc cham — made from fish sauce, water, sugar, and lime juice kicked up with chilies and garlic). With Vietnamese cuisine, sample, alter, and enhance your food.
Large bowls of pho (hot soup) embody the freshness, complex flavors, and flexible do-it-yourself aspect of Vietnamese cuisine. Choose from among noodles, sprigs of fresh herbs, and lean meats.
Vietnamese cuisine is famous for its rice-paper rolls filled with a medley of meats, vegetables, herbs, sprouts, and vermicelli. Here is a simple rice paper roll made from cassava flour, rice flour, and cornstarch. It’s cooked like a crepe, filled with shredded meat, and then drizzled with nuoc cham. Its translucence reveals the delicate texture of the wrapper ”“ like eating the flimsiest of crepes with an added topnote of stickiness. A garnish of fried onions only serves to intensify the flavor even more.
Vietnamese desserts consist of sticky rice cakes, flans, and plenty of tapioca and coconut milk. This is my favorite ”“ tapioca balls and lotus root swimming in a pool of lightly sweetened coconut milk. And who can beat that heart-shaped pineapple piece?
THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED.
Lobby Level, Dusit Hotel
Ayala Center, Makati
867 3333 ext: 3354, 3963