Having visited Vietnam about 10 years ago for half a day, I admit the country is something of a closed book to me, and its cuisine even more so.
After visiting Viet Taam, and enjoying a meal there, I can say I am slightly more enlightened. Anyone interested in the basic philosophy of Vietnamese cooking can find reams of information on the Internet. My job is to report on the food – and the people behind this fairly new addition to Netanya’s restaurant scene.
Viet Taam has been open for about six months now. Situated on a busy street adjacent to the main drag, Herzl, it has several tables covered in cherry blossom plastic tablecloths inside its cool interior, with several tables outside on the pavement, sorry, sidewalk, which filled up quickly with customers on the evening we visited.
The French rabbi behind the Vietnamese restaurant in Israel
The brains behind Viet Taam (an imaginative name, by the way) belong to Rabbi Jean-Pierre Fettman, who was born to Holocaust-survivor parents in Nancy, France, in 1956.
He worked for many years in Hong Kong, met his Vietnamese wife, Naomi, there, and they have three children. Naomi does the cooking, and the sons help out with serving.
The multilingual Jean-Pierre does the “mine host” role to perfection. He opens a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and distributes it among the other diners, as well as filling large glasses for us. We drink a toast and inspect the small laminated menu, which is in Hebrew and English.
How was the food?
For a starter I chose the cigars, which were served attractively on a bed of lettuce and carrot chips with a sweet and sour sauce. They were filled with minced chicken and spices, were hot and crispy but pleasantly non-oily. The filling was harif (very spicy) but offset by the sweetness of the sauce – altogether a very satisfying opener (NIS 29).
My companion decided to start with the soup, a huge bowl of consommé full of beef slices and flat noodles and garnished with chopped spring onions. It definitely wasn’t your grandma’s Shabbat chicken soup, but something much more exotic, with hints of coriander and ginger. It came with a plate of bean sprouts, mint and red chili pepper slices on the side.
Naomi, who popped out of the kitchen to say hello, told us that the secret of the soup is long, slow cooking. It was like a meal in itself (NIS 54).
The choices for main courses are also not large. You can have a rice-based main or a noodle-based one. We chose one of each. The jasmine rice is perfectly cooked, as one would expect; the noodles, too.
I chose a tofu dish, and this came with plenty of fresh vegetables and coriander topping. My husband chose chicken, but there was a mix-up and he got tofu as well.
As someone who uses tofu a lot for my vegan son, I was impressed with how tasty they managed to make what is basically a flavorless food.
For dessert, we were offered a dish of tapioca and fruit in coconut milk. Tapioca, made from cassava root, used to be a great favorite in the nurseries of the British gentry (NIS 22). I like the way it slithered effortlessly down the gullet, providing a sweet ending for what had been quite a culinary adventure.
Viet TaamGlatt kosher1 Tel Hai, NetanyaPhone: 050-483-4898Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday, Saturday – closed.Kashrut – Netanya Rabbinate
The writer was a guest of the restaurant.