Teppanyaki, a culinary art to savour

(No.6, Vol.2, June 2012 Vietnam Heritage Magazine, Advertorial)

Kobe Teppanyaki’s chef Kim Thu prepares a sliced beef roll with onions and garlic.
Photo: Ba Han

Some might even consider it a chore. Most, although they might enjoy it, would say it is a normal everyday activity. Nearly all of us would agree that in the right creative hands it can be elevated to an art although one whose product does a fast disappearing act. But how would we classify it as an art? To some extent it has to be a fine art. After all a really good dish usually has to be attractive to the eyes. Worthy of a photograph perhaps? Who on earth, I ask you, would put it alongside dance, music, opera, theatre and the circus categorising it as a performing art? The answer is of course that ingenious people, the Japanese.
They have a form of cuisine called Teppanyaki which literally translates as ‘table cooking’. Just as you do not have to be Japanese to be a sumo wrestler to be a champion I found out the other day that there are some dab hand Vietnamese practitioners of this art right in the heart of the city which I inhabit, Ho Chi Minh Ville. The Kobe Teppanyaki, an offshoot of a restaurant in Phnom Penh, Cambodia has been in operation since December 2011 and is located in one of District Three’s restaurant rows in Tu Xuong Street.
I was greeted at the doors of a converted French villa by Mai Trang Dai the ‘shop manager’ who gamely allowed me to call her Lady Dai. There were many waitresses also to greet me in the hallway. I should tell you now that this restaurant practices a kind of Teppanyaki which requires a delicate hand. All the chefs are required to be female. They have all undergone a two-month intensive training course in Cambodia.
Lady Dai led me first to the luxurious VIP room with chandeliers on the ceiling. There was a card on the table advertising a set meal for two featuring a special kind of Japanese beef for VND3,160,000 (around $156). On the first floor was a private banquet hall and on the second a long sushi bar for those whom prefer the more well known kind of Japanese food.
Finally we were led to our dining room. It was a U-shaped table with seating for around 12 diners. In front was a stainless steel cooking area. To the side of that was a table with condiments arranged on it comprising soya sauce, white wine, butter, salt and pepper in two attractive large wooden grinders. The background was glass windows with a forest decoration. Outside a French window was a wall with a waterfall running down it.
We were four diners gathered around the cooking arena. Myself, Ba Han our photographer and our hosts Lady Dai and Ron, Kobe’s sales manager. Asked to choose a set menu I opted for the seafood set priced at VND1,200,000 for two people. It included Australian beef which presented a bit of a problem. I do not usually eat red meat and Ba Han is a strict vegetarian. It was decided that our hosts would take care of the beef and some special stir fried vegetables were arranged for Ba Han. Our star, a young lady called Miss Thu, now appeared on the scene donning an immaculate white chef’s hat. Even before my colleague started clicking away it was clear that she had a smile which was, as the lyrics of a song that was popular in my youth put it like, ‘a toothpaste ad man’s dream’.
Green Japanese tea freshly brewed and with full aroma was placed by us to be replenished throughout the meal. For starters fresher assorted sushi appeared. The vinegared pieces of rice wrapped in seaweed come topped with raw white river fish, salmon; red clam and octopus. Pink ginger added to the taste and blasts from the wasabi (Japanese horseradish) hot as English mustard sent shock waves through my head.
Butter, sauce and white wine were smeared over the table and Miss Thu took up her utensils to produce Act One – Aussie beef roll with chives and garlic. It looked so succulent I almost wish I were a carnivore.
Next up was the scallop cooked in its own large shell. Just a morsel but a real delicacy. It was in Act Three, also seafood, the ‘King Prawn’, that we witnessed the true culinary skills of Miss Thu. Using a long knife and a two pronged fork Miss Thu deftly separated shell from meat and with neat strokes cuts them down the middle ready for a fry up. The heads were cooked under a large brass saucepan lid and for me were the tastiest bits.
Act Four was the fried rice and we observed Miss Thu crack open eggs and mix in flour, cream herbs and garlic. Water mushrooms also went into the servings of fried rice in the bowl and the waitress served us the traditional accompaniment of miso soup. This is based on fermented soya bean with a stock that tastes of the sea. For the final act Miss Thu cooked us slices of pumpkin in soya sauce. The meal in sum had been fit for a Mikado, I say!
The musical accompaniment had been classic Western easy listening. We had instrumental versions of, to name a few, ‘Greensleeves’ ‘Swanee River’, and ‘Auld Lang Syne’ the latter I hear being almost as dear to the Japanese as it is to the Scots. Miss Dai tells me they have a great selection of tapes. Next time I go I think I might chose some traditional romantic Koto music, a stringed instrument related to the Vietnamese ‘đàn tranh’, which you often hear being played in the lobbies of top hotels.
It was time to leave and I arose with the others following suit. Miss Thu gave a long bow. Probably to a group of Japanese businessmen this would merely mean a respectful ‘sayonnara’ but we all spontaneously broke out into applause for her performance and a drum roll of a rumble from my contented stomach added further private salute.

Kobe Teppanyaki Restaurant
13A Tu Xuong St, Ward 7,
Dist.3, Ho Chi Minh City
Tel: (08) 3932-0187

Kobe beef steak set for two people (including sliced beef rolls with garlic and onions, scallop, mixed vegetabkes, fried rice, miso soup and ice cream or mixed fruit).
Photo: Ba Han

mushroom with tofu and pumpkins.
Photo: Ba Han

sliced beef roll with garlic and onions.
Photo: Kobe Teppanyaki Restaurant

king prawns
Photo: Ba Han

Kobe beef steak
Photo: Kobe Teppanyaki Restaurant

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