Rice and shine at Annam
OOH LA LAI - Lai S. Reyes (The Philippine Star) - March 30, 2017 - 12:00am

For an Asian who grew up in the West, there’s always a longing to go back to one’s roots.

Nam Quoc Nguyen was only seven years old when his family fled to Denmark in 1979, when Vietnam fell to the communists. But his parents made every effort to ensure that he kept to his Vietnamese traditions and culture.

As a young adult, he enlisted in the army. While serving with the UN peacekeeping force in the mountains of Serbia, he signed up for kitchen duty. I guess that’s where he discovered his passion for cooking because he attended a culinary school in Copenhagen after his stint in the military.

Instilled with Vietnamese pride, Nam embarked on a culinary journey around the world. He spent 20 years serving Western cuisine at premier restaurants and hotels in New York, Oslo, Thailand and Bali.

But for chef Nam, a steaming bowl of pho — not stegt flaesk — always feels like home. In 2012, he opened his own NamNam Noodle Bar in Singapore, which specializes in banh mi sandwiches and pho — food items that left a lasting mark on his palate.

Four years later, he brought Vietnamese street food to the Philippines, with the first Annam branch in Eastwood in July 2016 — its first franchised outlet.

The restaurant was a big hit among Eastwood’s cosmopolitan crowd, who couldn’t seem to get enough of Annam’s light yet flavorful, no-MSG chicken or beef pho and the French-style baguette sandwiches with delicious meaty and vegetable fillings that go well with a cup of Viet iced coffee with condensed milk. But while the sale of the noodles and sandwiches remained brisk, some diners would repeatedly ask if the resto would offer rice meals soon.

And so, seven months after its successful debut in Eastwood, Annam launched its second branch at Resorts World Manila with a revamped menu to include rice toppings.

“I went to Singapore and practically begged chef Nam to allow us to offer rice meals,” shares restaurateur Raymund Magdaluyo over a steaming bowl of chewy rice noodles (with thin slices of Australian beef) and smoked salmon with tofu banh mi.

Chef Nam agreed, but on one condition: that Raymund and his team would send him recipes of the rice dishes Pinoys love.

“Chef Nam got his inspiration from the ‘silog’ concept, while making sure the rice dishes retained their authentic Asian flavors,” Raymund explains.

The new rice offerings include crispy fried pork chop with classic Vietnamese steamed egg meatloaf; sautéed pork belly with prawns and fried egg; twice-cooked Australian beef brisket with Imperial meat roll; and fried fish fillet in tomato-turmeric sauce with prawn marinated in sugarcane.

Annam’s rice dishes are far from the “silog” dishes we’re used to. While the presentation is similar to a binalot, the selection highlights chef Nam’s knack for blending cuisines.  He learned this technique during his stint at The Lighthouse in Singapore, where he made a mark with his signature dish: carpaccio beef with uni.

“It took chef Nam almost two months to conceptualize the rice menu. So we’re confident these new dishes will click with Filipinos,” enthuses Rachel Aw, franchise operations manager of the Les Amis Group behind the Annam brand, who flew in from Singapore just for the opening of Annam’s second branch in the country.

She adds that while the Vietnamese are more familiar with broken rice — rice that has been fragmented or damaged from the milling process — Annam uses a long-grain variety for its new dishes.

“Rice dishes were introduced simultaneously in Annam’s four branches in Jakarta.

Indonesians, like Filipinos, have a long-standing love affair with rice,” Aw adds.

Needless to say, chef Nam was able to rice to the occasion with these delicious offerings.

* * *

Annam has branches at Unit 1880-4 ground floor, 1880 Building, Eastwood Ave., Eastwood City, Libis; and at Resorts World Manila in Pasay City.

NAM QUOC NGUYEN
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