Rice, Mamma Mia!

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Rice is an Asian staple, an indispensable part of every meal for millions.

And Asia's diverse cultures have distinct rice varieties and rice dishes that they favor. Korea has Korean mixed rice, China is proud of Yangzhou fried rice, Vietnam has cơm chiên cá mặn (fried rice with salted fish), and so on.

With the huge worldwide popularity and recognition that pizza and pasta have attained, it is sometimes overlooked that Italy has superb rice dishes as well. Italian chefs pay a lot of attention to their rice dishes, known as risotto.

Risotto is a dish that Asian customers will enjoy, because it has rich flavors and tastes different from their own delectable dishes.

The rice used to prepare risotto must be short, round and rich in high-starch (amylopectin), having the ability to absorb liquids and release starch and so they get stickier and more delicious than the long grain varieties. Italian rice dishes, cooked right, are crunchy.

Risotto can be cooked in many ways. Typical ingredients are stir-fried vegetables, meat broth and wine. To make risotto more attractive, chefs add mushrooms, spinach, lettuce, seafood, meat and cheese. A dash of turmeric powder is added sometimes to make the dish more colorful and eye-catching. The wine gives risotto a particularly distinctive taste and texture as it makes the rice softer and more flavorful.

The Mondo Restaurant in Hanoi has a risotto dish cooked with four kinds of cheese, one with tiger prawns and cream, with veggies and asparagus. Seafood lovers can try the Mediterranean seafood risotto.

Gourmets should not pass up on the risotto with porcini mushrooms, which grow in the Chianti forests.

Smoked bacon is a familiar ingredient in many Italian dishes, but when it is part of risotto along with dried tomato, it acquires a new taste to savor. Traditional favorites are risotto with chicken and Italian mushroom smells fragrant, and tastes flavorful, tough and crunchy.

Apart from the famous risotto, a new dish on offer in the restaurant is grilled young chicken with Italian mushroom sauce. The grilled chicken is fragrant and delicious.

It is served up with white rice and salad.

Down south

In Ho Chi Minh City, there are many Italian restaurants that have become popular among Vietnamese and foreign residents.

Xu Restaurant is a good place to try new things because it specializes in making dishes with a Vietnamese style. On its menu is a risotto that combines Vietnamese and Italian cuisine. For example, chefs often use the laksa leaf in risotto dishes.

Apart from the Xu Restaurant, a worthwhile place to try the risotto is La Hostaria, which boasts "ethnic Italian cuisine." The restaurant sets itself apart from the others with a different menu everyday, a new dish every weekend, does not use any additives and rarely uses sugar.

So get set to enjoy risotto at any of the following restaurants:

Mondo

91A Tho Nhuom Street, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi

La Braceria

11 Le Thanh Ton Street, District 1, HCMC

La Hostaria

17B Le Thanh Ton Street, District 1, HCMC

Xu

1st floor, 71-75 Hai Ba Trung Street, District 1, HCMC

Tel: (08) 3 824 8468

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