From Halong Bay to the Mekong Delta, the flowers, fireworks and blithe clothes are actuality readied: Anon the fun and feasting will begin. China and its all-inclusive banishment may accomplish the best babble at Lunar New Year, but it’s no beneath of a big accord in Vietnam.
Food plays an capital role in Vietnam’s Tet New Year celebrations, from the offerings of bake-apple accumulated up on ancestors altars to appropriate affairs of aflame adhesive rice. In years accomplished we accept fabricated appropriate trips to allotment in the festivities. This time around, we will accomplish do with a appointment to a bounded Vietnamese restaurant. One of our accepted favorites is The Majestic.
It’s called afterwards a archetypal colonial-era auberge on the beach of the Saigon River. But afar from the entrance, with its beach awning, this affable little restaurant, unobtrusively amid in a basement on Aoyama’s Kotto-dori, puts on no affectedness or pretensions. The attending is simple and comfortable, with reproduction furniture, a few indigenous accents and absorbing hand-painted frescoes on the walls.
But it’s not the adornment or the shelves of food on auction by the checkout that set the emphasis so abundant as the bright smiles of the chefs — all women, all from southern Vietnam — that accost you from the kitchen. Immediately you feel reassured: Here you eat accurate home-cooked Vietnamese, not a jazzed-up, auberge tourist-brochure adaptation of the cuisine.
You can acquaint this beeline away, as anon as the aboriginal bowl of goi cuon (fresh bounce rolls) arrives. While too abounding places accumulate them in the fridge accessible to go, they are able to order; the clear-cut wraps are altogether bendable (it takes acquaintance to reconstitute the dry “rice paper” to actually the appropriate moistness); and they are blimp with aloof the appropriate antithesis of beginning shrimp, arena pork and bloom greens. Top marks.
The Majestic additionally makes two added fresh-spring-roll variations that we like aloof as much. One has a accomplished breadth of omelet aflame craven through the exoteric band of the blanket and is served with a appetizing peanut sauce. The added incorporates smoked salmon, avocado and cheese and is served with a blubbery mayonnaise-based dip.
Now you’re acclimatized in, conceivably with a Vietnamese beer in duke — Saigon Appropriate or 333 (pronounced “ba-ba-ba”), there’s little aberration amid these two ablaze lagers — it’s time for an adjustment of cha gio, deep-fried bounce rolls. These are actually not to be missed.
Crisp and golden, the stubby, bite- admeasurement cylinders are blimp with a admixture of minced shrimp and crab. They are served in a analytical conical bamboo holder, with a agnate bassinet captivation lettuce, candied basil and blooming shiso leaves, in which you blanket the bounce rolls afore aqueous them with a little of the accompanying sauce, a agilely ambrosial mix of of nuoc mam (fish sauce) and rice alkali with cautiously disconnected carrot. We can’t get abundant of The Majestic’s cha gio — and haven’t begin bigger in Tokyo.
The alone acumen for not acclimation a accomplished allocation is to get them as allotment of the accomplished alloyed bowl of hot starters. Forth with a brace of the cha gio, you additionally get aflame bounce rolls blimp with arena pork and coriander leaf, with a sweet-spicy nuoc-mam dip; aflame dumplings (similar to jiaozi in Chinese cuisine) blimp with pureed shrimp and served with a soy-sauce dip; and deep-fried bounce rolls blimp with a candied mix of apple, nashi (Asian pear) and strawberry, for which the dip is a ambrosial mayonnaise-based concoction.
Why acknowledgment the dips? Because of the variety. In best added Vietnamese restaurants they are indistinguishable, usually aloof decanted beeline from the bottle. Another archetype of the adroitness and boldness at assignment on the card is the admittance of bagna cauda. The archetypal Italian-style dip has been accustomed a Vietnamese complexion, with a bubbling, ambrosial booze and sticks of Okinawan vegetables to douse in it.
The emphasis is durably on vegetable dishes — Vietnamese cuisine is broadly marketed in Japan as a light, “healthy” way of eating, and not surprisingly, 80 percent of the barter at The Majestic (we were told) are women. But the card offers affluence of added abundant book as well.
For the winter months there’s a viscous, red seafood hot pot that’s about up to Sichuan levels of spiciness. The craven wings are not alone finger-lickin’ good, they are absorbed with the adorable ambrosial flavors of attic and lemongrass. And we adulation the stir-fried prawns, with their thick, appealing tamarind sauce.
There is a acceptable alternative of brainstorm dishes, both pho (fine rice noodles) and bun (thick noodles), with light, aged chicken-based broths. We additionally like the rice with lotus seeds (com sen), which is captivated in assistant blade and steamed. Instead of apparent rice, The Majestic uses a admixture of red rice and long-grain jasmine rice, forth with diced carrots, morsels of craven and shrimp, additional the fat white lotus seeds.
All that’s bare to annular off the meal is a cup of Vietnamese-style coffee, dripped over blubbery abridged milk — it’s so candied that you hardly charge one of the dank desserts.
For aftermost year’s Tet observances, The Majestic able assorted celebratory dishes. This year the arch chef is away, aback in Vietnam, so annihilation appropriate is planned. Nonetheless, we will bead in during the anniversary aeon to see what the kitchen is serving, and apparently accomplish a point of supping on bun bo hue, noodles adapted in the Hue appearance with cuts of beef. Afterwards all, it’s the alpha of the Year of the Ox. Chuc clay nam moi — a Happy Lunar New Year to all Japan Times readers.
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