Whenever I’m asked which nation’s cuisine is my favorite, I always reply that, being Asian, I like Oriental food best. Not only does this get me off the hook from seeming to play favorites, but it’s also the truth.
With its interplay of sweet, sour, salty and spicy flavors, Asian cuisine is truly dynamic. So rarely are the dishes just one-dimensional.
Then, too, there’s the layering of textures; a dish can be crisp at first bite, then chewy or tender the next (and vice versa). Think of our fried lumpia, for instance, or Peking duck, with its soft Mandarin wrappers and filling of crispy roasted duck skin and scallions.
At Marriott Café, the diverse flavors and textures of Asian dishes are being served in a buffet dinner the whole month of July. Four chefs from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam are preparing some of their country’s most popular dishes.
For chef Thanatorn Krobsuay of Thailand, this includes variations on the curry (red, yellow and green), deep-fried fish cake, sea bass with chili sauce and braised beef spiced with turmeric and coconut.
Chef Ruhizad Muri of Malaysia is serving Penang-style cooking, with its blend of roots and spices, herbs and chilies in dishes such as barbecued chicken and steamed fish with Malaysian spices. Clams, mussels and other seafood are also cooked on the spot with one’s choice of percik, tamarind, rendang or sambal sauces.
One of the dishes I found interesting at opening dinner was the Indonesian version of roasted duck prepared by chef Dadang Wahyudi. With the rhythmical name bebek betutu klungkung, the duck is flavored with a mysterious combination of herbs and roots, spices and seasonings, and is served with spicy salad.
At the Vietnamese station, manned by chef Phan Thien Hoa, pho takes center stage. Fat rice noodles are mixed in a bowl with a flavorful broth, bean sprouts, basil leaves and slices of chicken or beef. It’s comfort food for a rainy night.
And speaking of Vietnamese cuisine, here’s a recipe from Marriott Hotel for fresh spring rolls in rice paper wrappers, one of the dishes in the Asian buffet. I often order this dish when I dine in a Vietnamese restaurant because I like the fresh taste imparted by the basil, mint and cilantro leaves.
In addition, the sweet, sour, salty and spicy dip that goes with it is like a microcosm of the rich flavors of Asian cooking.
(Buffet price is P2,300 net Sunday-Thursday, and P2,500 net Friday-Saturday. Call 9889999 for inquiries and reservations.)
2 medium-size carrots, peeled and cut lengthwise into thin sticks
1 cucumber, peeled and cut lengthwise into thin sticks
24-32 fresh mint leaves, stems removed
12-16 fresh cilantro leaves
1 c chopped lettuce leaves
Spring onions for garnish (optional)
For the fish sauce mixture
2 tbsp white sugar
¼ c fish sauce (patis)
1/3 c water
2 tbsp lime or calamansi juice
1 garlic clove, minced
½ tsp garlic chili sauce (store-bought)
For the hoisin sauce mixture
¼ c hoisin sauce (store-bought)
1 tsp finely chopped peanuts
In a medium-size saucepan, bring the 4 cups of water to a boil. Add rice vermicelli and let boil for two to three minutes, or until al dente. Drain vermicelli from the water. Set aside.
Pour the 2 cups warm water into a large bowl. Dip one rice wrapper into the warm water for 5-10 seconds, just enough to soften it. Arrange wrapper flat on a plate. Cut shrimps into halves. Tear the basil leaves into halves. Near the center of the wrapper, arrange 2 shrimp halves, two carrot sticks, one cucumber stick, two halves of basil leaves, a small handful of the prepared vermicelli, 1 to 2 each of mint leaves and cilantro leaves and a few of the chopped lettuce leaves. If desired, add a stem of spring onion.
Roll the rice wrapper tightly to enclose the filling completely. Repeat with remaining wrappers and fillings. Arrange the spring rolls on a platter and serve with the fish sauce and hoisin sauce mixtures.
To make the sauces:
For the fish sauce mixture: In a small bowl, mix the fish sauce, water, lime juice, garlic, sugar and chili sauce. For the hoisin mixture: In another small bowl, mix the hoisin sauce and peanuts.
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If desired, you can adjust the proportion of the fillings in the wrappers, i.e., put more or less of the basil leaves, or of the mint leaves, carrot sticks, etc., according to your taste.
Likewise, if desired, you can put whole shrimps instead of cutting them in halves.
You can also alter the proportion of the sauce ingredients to suit your taste. Add more sugar for a sweeter sauce and more garlic or chili garlic sauce for a spicier sauce.
The rice wrappers are brittle so handle them carefully so as not to tear them. For dipping the wrappers into the warm water, make sure to put the warm water in a bowl that’s large enough so the wrappers fit.
Garlic chili sauce and hoisin sauce are available in the sauce and seasoning section of large supermarkets.