Jewish Journal

A Culinary Surprise

A chef in Hanoi can be found serving bagels and smoked salmon.

by Judy Zeidler

Posted on Feb. 20, 2003 at 7:00 pm

Donald Berger at the Deli.

Donald Berger at the Deli.

Recently, my husband and I traveled extensively throughout Vietnam, where we took several cooking classes and met talented chefs in Saigon, Hoi An and Hanoi. We ate everything from fresh Spring Rolls to Banana Blossom Salad. But the chef that surprised us the most was Donald Berger at the Press Club in Hanoi, just across the street from the Hotel Metropole where we stayed.

The Press Club Restaurant is housed on three floors in a large office building and we were told by a friend living in Hanoi that we must meet the chef. So, one evening after dinner at a local restaurant, we decided to stop in the Press Club for a glass of wine and asked for him. We were told he was busy cooking in his restaurant on the third floor, but he would be available shortly. When he finally arrived we discovered many mutual friends and spent several hours discussing where he had worked in Asia. He also told us that he had worked for several years as the sous-chef at the Four Seasons Hotel Laguna Nigel.

We were leaving Vietnam the next day but, as we left the Press Club that evening, Donald suggested that we meet him for breakfast so we could see what he was cooking in his downstairs restaurant.

We got up early the next morning and met him in the rear of what looked like a typical American-style coffee bar called the Deli. It is a place where the locals stop in for a cup of coffee and pastry or glass of wine and read the news papers from around the world.

The menu included rye bread, challah and New York Cheesecake, there was even a plate of matzah in the deli case. Donald asked if we would like to taste his homemade bagels and Lotus Blossom Tea Wok Smoked Salmon. We could hardly believe that we were in Vietnam and we were eating bagels, cream cheese and smoked salmon. What a wonderful treat. He shared his bagel recipe with me, but the Lotus Blossom Tea Wok Smoked Salmon is a little more difficult to re-create in a home kitchen.

What was this chef doing in Vietnam and why was he serving a Jewish breakfast, we asked? He grew up in Montreal, and missed the family Sunday morning breakfast of bagels and lox and all the other Jewish foods he remembered, and decided to bring them to Vietnam. To his surprise, it was an instant hit with the traveling business people, diplomats and tourists. Many of the deli items are flown in from New York, but he makes the bagels fresh every morning.

When and if you find yourself in Hanoi, Vietnam be sure to stop in the Deli at the Press Club Restaurant, have a bagel and say hello to Chef Donald Berger.

Press Club, 59A Ly Thai To, Hanoi, Vietnam (tel) (84-4) 934-0888,(fax) (84-4) 934-0899).

Chef Donald Berger's Vietnam Bagels

1 cup milk

1¼4 pound unsalted butter

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

1 package active dry yeast

1 egg, lightly beaten

3 cups bread flour

3¼4 cup honey

Poppy seeds or sesame seeds

In a saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer and cool to 110 F.

Add butter, salt and sugar.

Add yeast and let bubble form for 5 minutes.

Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer.

Beat in the egg.

Gradually add 2 1¼2 cups of the flour mixture to the milk mixture and beat well.

Transfer the dough to a wooden board on top of the remaining 1¼2 cup flour.

Knead the dough, incorporating the flour, for 10 to 15 minutes, cover with a towel and let rest 15 minutes. Knead again 10 to 15 minutes, cover with a towel and let rest 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and divide each piece into 3 pieces.

Cover with a towel while you knead and shape each piece of dough. Knead by folding each piece in half and pushing out any air pockets, then fold in half again and repeat.

Shape into a rope about 5 inches long; form into a doughnut shape, overlap ends by about 1 inch, and knead into a smooth perfect circle. Repeat the process with remaining pieces of dough.

Sprinkle cornmeal on a board and place bagels on top.

Cover with a towel and let rest five minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Fill a large heavy pot with 12 cups of water and 3¼4 cup honey and bring to a rolling boil.

Working in batches, drop four bagels (do not crowd) into the boiling-water mixture and boil 10 seconds only. At this time, bagels should rise to the top of the water.

Transfer with a slotted spoon to a wooden board or wire rack and drain.

Press the top of each bagel into poppy seeds or sesame seeds.

Sprinkle with kosher salt if desired.

Transfer bagels to a foil-lined, lightly oiled, baking sheet 2 inches

apart. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Cool on wire racks.

Makes 12 bagels.

Judy Zeidler is the author of "The Gourmet Jewish Cook" and "The 30-Minute Kosher Cook." Her Web site is .

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