And why NAM is one of Manchester's best places to get it
WHEN you're trying to stick to a healthy diet, it can seem like everything you want to eat, you can't eat. Finding a lunch option that's good for you and tastes good isn't easy but here's one that's both: Vietnamese.
Known as one of the healthiest cuisines in the world, it gets its beautiful flavours from a careful balance of herbs, spices and fresh produce, rather than from relying on dairy, sugar and fat. And because it's made using inexpensive ingredients, you don't pay a premium for eating clean.
There are several places to get good Vietnamese food in Manchester, including NAM on Cutting Room Square in Ancoats, just two minutes walk from the Northern Quarter.
They've just launched a great-value lunch deal which includes a small dish, a medium dish and a soft drink for £6.50, with vegan options available throughout.
It's light but satisfying, and feels like a treat even though it's good for you. There are lots of dishes to choose from. This is what we had – including soft drinks and prawn crackers – for just £6.50 per person.
Pork and prawn goi cuon + chicken salad + prawn crackers + cranberry juice
Summer rolls (goi cuon) are the healthier (and we'd say, superior) version of spring rolls. Rather than being cooked in oil and served gooey and warm, they're served cool without being fried, which turns the flavour, texture and freshness up to ten.
They're strange-looking things – the filling looks like it's about to burst through the translucent rice paper like an alien being. But they taste divine, hitting all the flavour and texture touch-points in one bite: salty, sweet, spicy, soft, crunchy, moist.
Our was filled with sliced pork and plump prawns and a cleansing salad of cucumber, lettuce, bean sprouts, rice noodles and mint, with homemade peanut sauce for dipping. The vegan version swaps the meat and fish for mango, red pepper and pomegranate.
It was served alongside a moreish and colourful chicken salad, featuring crunchy cabbage, ribbons of carrot, cucumber, sesame seeds and dressed with a sweet, slightly spicy fish sauce. Together it made the perfect summer lunch.
Mini beef pho + half banh mi with char siu pork + prawn crackers + lime soda
Another great combination. The mini pho was a well-balanced, warming broth filled with rice noodles, spring onion, red onion and tender boiled beef. Lean and light, yet substantial, it felt clean and healthy and tasted fantastic.
Alongside it was the banh mi (or baguette sandwich) – a popular street food that shows the influence of the French colonists on Vietnamese cuisine. The bread was spread with pate, and filled with barbecued pork, honey, pickled carrot and daikon, cucumber, mint, coriander, and chilli.
Imagine that combination of flavours on soft, spongy bread. If you're a fan of the classic soup-and-sarnie lunch, you need to experience this Vietnamese version – it knocks most UK ones out of the water.
We left feeling well-fed but not over-full. The intensity and variety of flavours and textures are what we'll remember most from this meal. It's a different kind of satisfaction from food, and a more enjoyable one. If you want a lunch that tastes good and makes you feel good, NAM is an excellent choice.