Vietnamese food at New World Manila Bay Hotel: Pho-nomenal!

Ching M. Alano (The Philippine Star) - September 9, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Think Vietnamese food and what instantly comes to mind is a bowl of nice and hot pho beef noodles. I get my fill of this pho-ntastic dish — and a lot more of not-to-be-missed Vietnamese food — at New World Manila Bay Hotel’s Market Cafe, where a Vietnamese food promo is ongoing until Sept. 13.  

You don’t have to go to Vietnam for an authentic taste of Vietnamese cuisine as New World Manila Bay Hotel has flown in guest chefs Tran Van Dong and Tran Thanh Thuy from its sister property in Saigon to cook up the best that the Vietnamese kitchen can offer.

As you probably know, Vietnamese food is one of the healthiest in the world. “It’s light, there’s always a sprinkle of fresh vegetables, and it uses very little oil,” says Azmi Dahlan, director of food & beverage, New World Manila Bay Hotel. “It uses only the freshest ingredients with a lot of spices and herbs.”

Azmi is no stranger to Vietnamese cuisine, having lived in Saigon for four years. “Yes, Vietnamese and Thai foods share some common herbs and spices like a lot of lemongrass and fish sauce.”

He unlocks the secrets to Vietnamese cooking: “In Vietnamese cuisine, you will always see these two salts — chili salt and pepper salt — in skewered meats, salads, etc., with a little squeeze of fresh lime.”

With authentic Vietnamese food, you can really taste the spices. “The sourness, saltiness, sweetness should all be balanced, not overpowering each other,” Azmi shares.

Pho is so popular that the word was added to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary in 2007.  It is No. 28 in the list of the world’s 50 most delicious foods, as compiled in 2011 by CNN.

“You actually pronounce it as fa,” says Azmi of this world-famous comfort food that’s better eaten than pronounced.

So fa, so good, I can only say of our Vietnamese Cuisine 101 lessons from our teacher Azmi.

Next, Azmi tells us, “The pho soup is usually cooked overnight with a lot of dried spices — cinnamon, cardamom, star anise, etc. — that give it flavor.  The soup is put aside after skimming and cleaning it to get a nice, clear broth. It is then topped with homemade rice noodles and really tender semi-raw beef. It’s flavorful, all-natural, with no MSG and not salty at all.  But of course, if you like it salty, you can always add some chili salt or pepper salt.”

On a cold rainy day like today, a soothing, richly seasoned beef broth, served hot and fresh, is enough to warm the heart.

Aside from pho, this food fest introduces us to other equally popular Vietnamese street foods. “You can see people enjoying them on every street corner in Vietnam,” Azmi tells us.

There are the fresh spring rolls that you can pile on your plate without guilt.

The banh xeo (pancake) is simply pan-tastic! Its name means “sound crepe” because of the sound the batter makes when it’s poured into the hot skillet. Made of a very light batter of egg flour, it’s cooked like a crepe with prawn or shrimp, pork, beansprouts, cabbage, basil, and cilantro wrapped inside.

It you want it small but just as big in taste, try the banh khot (savory mini pancake). Dip it into some sweetened fish sauce before you pop it into your mouth. Turmeric gives it an attractive yellow color.

An instant fave is the so-tender and so-tasty chicken barbecue with turmeric. “This is marinated overnight with turmeric, lemongrass, a bit of fish sauce, and garlic, that is why it’s so flavorful,” says Azmi. “At the hotel, we just put the meat over charcoal to get the authentic taste, just like how they do it in Vietnam.”

Among the well-loved signature dishes by the guest chefs are the Southern Vietnamese salted rice flour cake with prawn and pork, water fern cake with prawn and pork, pineapple sour soup with prawns, braised catfish in clay pot, and Vietnamese rice balls.

For starters, lady chef Tran Thanh Thuy has her heart of palm and pork salad, chicken cabbage salad, traditional Vietnamese rice paper prawn, grapefruit salad and dried squid, among others.

The buffet features other famous entrees such as Vietnamese chicken glass noodles with bamboo shoots, Vietnamese caramelized pork, fried prawn skewer with chili salt, braised mudfish and grilled pork with five spices.

Don’t forget to leave some room for the desserts, such as the sweet mung bean soup with seaweeds, corn and coconut sweet soup, sweet banana and tapioca soup, sweet black bean soup with coconut cream, sweetened porridge longan and jelly, and lotus seed sweet soup.

For the last stop in your Vietnamese gustatory journey, have some ca phe sua da. Ca phe da is Vietnamese dark-roast coffee, with a hint of almond flavor, that’s brewed in a single-cup filter that serves as a small coffeepot. Inside are a chamber for coffee and room for hot water. At the bottom is condensed milk.

Ca phe da is a national drink in Vietnam,” Azmi describes. “In Vietnam, everybody just sits in the coffee shops on the streets, enjoying the view and the afternoon while waiting for the coffee to drip. It does take a long time for the coffee to drip.”

But patience is a virtue and while ca phe da takes long in preparation, it’s long in enjoyment, too. “The younger generation loves to drink it with a lot of ice while the older generation likes it hot,” Azmi describes the taste divide.

In a word, I’d describe Vietnamese cuisine as simply “pho-nomenal”!



* * *

From Sept. 1 to 13, New World Hotel, in cooperation with New World Saigon Hotel, Vietnamese Airlines, and the Embassy of Vietnam in the Philippines, showcases the exotic ingredients of Vietnamese cuisine for its lunch and dinner buffet at Market Cafe, and the Vietnamese coffee experience at the Lobby Lounge. Diners during the Vietnamese food promo get a chance to win a Saigon getaway that includes a two-night stay at New World Saigon Hotel and Manila-Saigon round-trip airfare tickets for two courtesy of Vietnam Airlines. For inquiries/reservations, call 252-6888, email or visit


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