|Royal charm: Charm Palace is one of Flamingo Resort's three restaurants. — Photos courtesy of Flamingo Dai Lai Resort
One chef had the unusual idea of creating a wide array of dishes from chayote, a plant popular in this highlands region. An Vu reports.
A chance meeting last month has brought me to Flamingo Dai Lai Resort, where nature and humans are believed to become one. Amid that picturesque and magnificent landscape, my journey into the magical land of chayote has begun.
Feeling sleepy after a sleep-deprived night, I took a quick nap on the bus and woke up amazed at the beauty of the destination. Situated in the mountainous region of northern poetic Dai Lai Lake, the five-star resort is designed with impressive architecture and international-standards services and facilities.
The resort welcomed its third restaurant, The Beach, this March, following the first two, Charm Palace and Bamboo Wings. The Bamboo Wings Restaurant, designed by Vo Trong Nghia, with capacity of 300 people, was rewarded the United States' International Architecture Award (IAA) in 2011.
|Green garnish: Bread baked with chayote on top.
Being away for a while from the suffocation of the city, I feel much more alive as I breathe in the pure and fresh air along with the sweet and tender fragrance of flowers and plants here.
Following the resort manager to the top of the hill, where Charm Palace, one of the beautiful restaurants of Flamingo, is located, I get a view of the entire surrounding landscape. Here, among the windy and charming scene, I was served the local highland speciality, dishes made from chayote.
The chayote cream soup VND68,000 (US$3), a cool and pleasing-to-the-eye dish, looked greasy when I first saw it. However, I was soon eased by the light green colour of the soup, the chayote bud and the seductive white layer of cream on the surface. The taste was as tenderly sweet and purely aromatic as I had imagined.
"I have been really impressed with the native ingredients, especially the chayote, since I started working here last October. Then I came up with the idea of creating more dishes from the chayote. I think the idea is quite unique, as I can make something different from other restaurants," says Nguyen Quang Hiep, the Charm Palace and Bamboo Wings chef, as he talks with me at the Charm Palace.
"For the soup, I mostly use European cream, butter and bay leave. They help to balance the dish," he adds.
|Key ingredient: Chayote buds and beef make an unusual salad.
The chayote salad, which comprises chayote bud and salted beef, is also a must when you spend your holiday at the resort. The chayote is first deep blanched in cold water and then marinated with salted beef. It is then served with marjoram, fennel and coriander. The popular dish, which is found on almost all Vietnamese tables, has now acquired a new taste just by adding some herbs for seasoning.
"When you eat chayote in your daily meals, you think of it as a popular dish. But at Charm Palace and Bamboo Wings, it has become a unique art of food. The resort is located in northern Vinh Phuc province, which is the origin of birth of chayote. Therefore, I want to make all dishes from chayote unique and special, just the way I feel it," comments Hiep.
Charm Palace Restaurant
Address: Flamingo Dai Lai, Ngoc Thanh Commune, Phuc Yen Town, Vinh Phuc Province
Tel: (04) 211-224 5498
Hours: : 9am - 10pm
Comment: plentiful European - Asian dishes, especially chayote specialty
Hiep says chayote is one of the first main course dishes he has put on the menu and is also an inspiration for him to create more unique dishes. "If you have tried the Japanese tempura, you will see that the next dish tastes like it, but instead of being stuffed with the traditional shrimp, it is stuffed with something else," he adds, passing me a full-to-the-top plate.
"Chayote again?" I ask. "Certainly!," Hiep smiles, "I call it chayote buds tempura." The dish VND148,000 ($7) is put in a batter and then deep fried for raising the plant flavour. In both winter and summer, the tempura is a healthy choice.
Seeing my excitement, the chef continues to show me the su su bo lo (baked chayote with minced beef, seafood and cheese, VND168,000 ($8). I must say, the man never seems to be tired with this kind of plant, and has turned it into a real obsession! After only 15 minutes, I have already had a piping hot dish of baked chayote with shrimp, squid and mozzarella cheese stuffed inside.
Hiep told me that he has brought an European-Asian taste to the dish, as he has added mashed potatoes, fried potatoes and salad on the side. However, as I feared the greasy smell, I declined to try too much of it.
For desert, I chose chuoi cuon xoi nep nuong (banana rolled with sticky hill rice, coconut and cream, VND68,000, another local specialty in this season.
"The benefit of having a resort here is we can take advantage of local food and clean, fresh vegetables planted at Flamingo. We always wish to aim for the European style, but all the ingredients must be eco-friendly. You can sense the motto as even the napkin holder that we put on the tables are made from plants," says Le Thi Thu Nguyet, the resort's marketing manager.
As for me, one day at the Flamingo resort is a memorable experience of chayote and a promise for the very next trip. — VNS