For the love of rice
Filipinos have a long-standing love affair with rice. Based on a 2015 survey by the Philippine Statistics Authority, the yearly average per-capita consumption of rice of Filipinos stood at 114.27 kilos, or 2.2 kilos per person per week.
Rice also has cultural and historical significance to the Philippines, even as other alternative staples such as bread and noodles are equally readily available. Indeed, for most Filipinos, rice is life.
It came as no surprise, then, that a foreign restaurant brand such as Annam, which offers authentic Vietnamese noodles and banh mi sandwiches, would expand its menu to include rice toppings. Seven months after its successful debut in Eastwood, Annam launched its second branch at Resorts World Manila with a revamped menu.
“I went to Chef Nam (Quoc Nguyen) in Singapore. I practically begged him to allow us to offer rice meals,” recalled top restaurateur Raymund Magdaluyo, who was responsible for bringing Annam to the country.
While the sale of Annam’s noodles remained brisk, customers would repeatedly ask if the restaurant would offer rice meals, Magdaluyo said.
“Chef Nam asked us for a sampler of possible rice meals. I think, in the end, he was inspired by the ‘silog’ concept while making sure the dishes retained their authentic Asian flavors,” he added.
While the Vietnamese, especially those from Ho Chi Minh, are more familiar with the broken rice or com tam – rice that has been fragmented or damaged from the milling process – Annam uses a long-grain variety for its new dishes.
“We want to understand the taste buds of Filipinos. There is no denying it – Filipinos want rice,” said Rachel Aw, the Singapore-based franchise operations manager of Les Amis Group behind the Annam brand.
The new rice dishes include crispy fried pork chop with classic Vietnamese steamed egg meatloaf (P340); twice-cooked Australian beef brisket with imperial meat roll (P390); fried fish fillet in tomato- turmeric sauce with prawn marinated in sugarcane (P320); and sautéed pork belly with prawns and fried egg (P390).
Aw said the rice dishes were introduced simultaneously in Annam’s four branches in Jakarta. In fact, the dishes call to mind Indonesia’s nasi goreng where fried rice is paired with either dried fish or chicken or prawns with a serving of egg and slices of vegetables such as cucumber.
Annam has also introduced a unique Vietnamese classic, the shaking beef in pepper hoisin sauce (P450), or bo lu lac. Its tongue-in-cheek name was derived from the way the wok is “shaken” to sear the meat. The dish is served with thick cut fries, a reflection of the French influence of the Vietnamese cuisine during the colonial period.
Famed for its banh mi—the classic French-inspired Vietnamese stuffed baguettes—Annam likewise created three new flavors: twice-cooked Australian beef brisket (P250); crispy fried turmeric chicken (P230); and smoked salmon with tofu and cream cheese (P250), all topped with traditional pickles, chicken pate, and fresh herbs. Paired with Annam’s signature Vietnamese coffee made from premium robusta coffee beans, the sandwiches are heavy enough for breakfast.
Annam has come a long way from the dreams of then seven-year-old Chef Nam who had to flee Saigon in 1979, and whose culinary journey began in Scandinavia where he learned the art of fine dining cuisine at the Copenhagen Culinary Institute. He spent almost two decades serving Western cuisine at premier hotels and restaurants across New York and London, before retracing his roots and starting his own Vietnamese noodle bar in Singapore in 2012.
Annam’s kitchens in Singapore and Jakarta, where at least 700 bowls of noodles are served every day to patrons in snake-like queues, and in the Philippines where rice dishes are poised to make a killing, have become busier than ever. But as Chef Nam once said: “This is a good problem to have.”
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