When international restaurant franchises come to the Philippines, food-loving denizens embrace their culture and menus eagerly and openly. After all, Filipinos are known to be adventurous when it comes to tastes, with our balut, dingus and other such delicacies and dishes hardly a match for most cuisines.
However, for Vietnamese noodle bar NamNam, coming to the Philippines need not be too kosher. Rather, they believe they can bring their signature dishes over while staying adaptable the host country’s preferences.
First opening in Singapore’s Raffles City Shopping Centre in October 2012, NamNam is founded by Nam Quoc Nguyen who himself is a man of merging cultures. Chef Nam, as he is fondly called, was born and raised in Vietnam until his family migrated to Denmark when he was just seven years old.
The young chef received his culinary training from the Copenhagen Culinary Institute and thereafter toured the globe to work for the kitchens of Aquavit in New York, Howard Hotel in London and Sukhothai Hotel in Bangkok.
Chef Nam finally returned to his roots and paid homage to the Vietnamese culture and tradition—which his parents kept alive even with their immigration—through his eponymous restaurant.
Today NamNam has eight branches around Southeast Asia —four in Singapore, two in Indonesia and two in the Philippines.
NamNam to Annam
When Chef Nam, his Les Amis Group associates and partners in the Philippines, headed by Raymund Magdaluyo, sealed the deal to bring NamNam to the country, they immediately had to hurdle an obstacle—changing the restaurant’s name to Annam due to trademark issues. A place with a similar name already exists here.
Nevertheless, “Annam” remains significant to the nature of the restaurant as it was the once the name of Vietnam during the French occupation, as well as the name of Chef Nam’s first restaurant—Annam Vietnamese Cuisine in Singapore.
The issue out of the way, Annam Noodle Bar’s flagship branch in the country opened in Eastwood in July 2016, and now, less than a year later, a new branch has opened its doors at Resorts World Manila on March 3.
“I’d say Annam’s menu is 50-percent authentic and 50-percent signature,” Magdaluyo told The Manila Times as an introduction to their menu.
Les Amis Group’s Franchise Operations Manager Rachel Aw seconded the statement and said they struck a balance between traditional Vietnamese dishes and Asian influences.
“We don’t want to veer away from the Vietnamese dishes so our mains are traditional like the Hanoi Pho, which remains true to the taste that is globally recognized. But for sections, Chef Nam can be creative with twists that will cater to the local palate,” Aw explained.
Citing an example, Aw said NamNam in Singapore carries dried noodles in its menu because Singaporeans love them while in Indonesia, NamNam serves rice meals a la nasi goreng or the Indonesia fried rice.
“We were asking Chef Nam, ‘Your menu is not all authentic, is it?’ And he said, ‘If you do all authentic, then there will be too little difference between us and other pho places.’ And so Annam has been developing a lot of signature items that are carefully planned,” Magdaluyo explained Chef Nam’s adapting menu.
For a start, the chef came up with rice dishes for Annam that go with their menu of delicious Hanoi Pho—a steaming bowl of rice flour noodles with intense broth boiled over 24 hours, and garnished with freshly chopped herbs.
Made of fragrant rice and coconut milk, the toppings of rice dishes include twice-cooked Australian beef brisket, crispy fried pork chop and fried turmeric chicken with steamed egg meatloaf.
If these sound familiar it is precisely because Chef Nam considered the Filipino palate.
“So when we came up with rice dishes, he asked us, ‘What type of comfort food do Filipinos eat?’ We gave him examples like adobo and the like,” Magdaluyo detailed.
Additionally, Madaluyo said Chef Nam also considered the available ingredients in the country.
“When he was here, he went to the market, to see what’s available locally. He knew that the key even with a franchise like this—which is proven successful in other countries—is to maximize the use of local ingredients.”
One of the major differences here then is the restaurant’s use of calamansi—a very Filipino and Southeast Asian fruit—instead of lemon.
Do their innovations in catering to the local palate work? Clearly they do what with dining areas always filled and a third Annam soon to open in Megamall.