Tuesday, 19 July 2011

A Modern Reception and Banquet at one of Ho Chi Minh City’s most luxurious Wedding and Conference Centre “La Grande Palace”

I was invited as part of Maison Chance Foundation to attend a wedding of the youngest son of one of MC’s ex partner, even though I had never met this person. I was very glad to have the opportunity to observe some new trends in banquet food, the last wedding I attended in Ho Chi Minh City was in 1993, when the market economy was at the beginning.
“La Grand Palace” occupies a he piece of land behind the main road with a large area to receive guests arriving by cars and buses, with temporary covered walk way to the entrance.
The curved marble stairs leading to the entrance, where female and male receptionists
 in formal white costumes welcomed guests, above is a large modern style chandelier.

Beyond this front entrance a large circular atrium covered with a giant glass dome from the centre hang an oval chandelier, in a moment I thought I was back in one of those casinos in Las Vegas.  It is like in a fantasy world, which did not have any thing to connect with reality.
The giant dome and chandelier above the atrium entrance to the hall

The dining hall was huge it must accommodate at least 500 guests and of course the ceiling is lined with more chandeliers, they must be a sign of ultimate opulence to the new middle class!

The dining hall was slowly filled up with guests, there was not exactly a dress code, some in formal gears, other in short shorts and t-shirts.  After midday, the master of ceremony announced the arrival of the bridal party while the dancers danced to Richard Strauss’ The Blue Danube, which was also projected on two large screens on either side of the stage. I was absolutely fascinated by this modern style wedding reception, may be the entertainment helps the guests to have something in common to talk together, often guests were put together just to fill in a table of 10.

The bride and groom was led to the stage by the attendants in white, after the MC introduced them he invited the rest of the bridal party to come up to the stage to be introduced. The happy moments was celebrated with a mini fire works. A couple of speeches then it was the time for the Bridal Toast. From the entrance three men in white uniforms marched up the stage with bottles of champagne. The bride and groom exchanged their glasses while the dancers danced around them to another romantic love song and the sparkling fireworks.

Then it was time to eat and here is the menu for the banquet:

1. Two entrees:
+salad of young coconut  shoot with prawn and pork.
+Deep fried squid rings
2. Mixed seafood soup
3. Bacon rolled barramundi filet
4.Braised chicken served with bread roll
5. Thai style seafood hot pot  serve with fresh rice vermicelli
6. Grapes from the US
Bon apetit.
As the entrees were served the entertaining program began with a couple of singers singing songs expressing love and happiness,  following by the band playing continuously.
My clearest memory of this meal was the taste of SUGAR.
The coconut shoot salad is predominantly sweet with a slight hint of sour.
The deep fried squid rings were just like those from our fish and chips shop (pre crumbed, frozen
and deep fried) served with a seafood cocktail sauce which is also quite sweet but at least it was a bit spicy.

As for the mixed seafood soup, it is a must in every banquet basically it is a corn flour thicken soup with loaded MSG and broken bits of sea food stick . The traditional version of this soup was crabmeat with asparagus soup with real chicken stock.

The taste of the barramundi was lost in the batter and the deep - frying It was served with sweet and sour sauce. I felt sorry for the waste of good barramundi.

I was not sure what was taste of the braised chicken supposed to be, by the yellow colour sauce I guess it could be a chicken curry but seriously it tasted just like boiled chicken dropped in a very weak and tasteless curry sauce.

The Thai style hot pot looked promising with the great looking raw ingredients, whole tiger prawns, pieces of fish and squid and a host of fresh vegetables including, taro stalk, pumpkin flower, green beans, finely banana sucker slices, kang kong  stems, straw mushrooms, tomatoes and a special vegetable called Rau Rut in Vietnamese.

However the sugary stock spoiled all these fabulous fresh ingredients. The stock was deprived of the basic taste of Thai hot pot: spicy and sour.

It is a very common problem of cooking and serving international food without basic cultural knowledge, and the grapes garnished with parsley is an example.

The waiting staff are trained in basic silver service but it was impossible for them to do their job properly with young kids running around and crowded seating arrangement.
I am thinking about my impossible job at Village Chance Eateries!

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