Sunday, October 30, 2011

Non Thai food in Thailand

Eating Thai food everyday for a whole week was not something I could handle. It’s simply too much masala, too much spice and the use of coconut milk makes it all very heavy. I presume eating a more balanced meal i.e. more vegetables, cutting down on the protein and eating more judiciously would have helped. But then you only have one life!

We did get some non Thai food into our stomachs as well. Some of the places we ate at are:

The Kabuki Japanese at the J W Marriott Resort and Spa, Phuket
Siam Deli at the J W Marriott Resort and Spa, Phuket
Restaurant Crystal Jade, Bangkok
High Tea at the Siam Kempinski, Bangkok

The Kabuki Restaurant was not something I particularly enjoyed, it must be said. I find Sushi, Sashimi et al rather uninspiring. It’s knife skills I agree, but the food has no heat applied to it. Is it really cooking? The prices are eye watering and at the end of the meal you end up hungry. Her Royal Highness Queen of Kutch of course, loves the Sushi and Sashimi. HRH thoroughly enjoyed her beautiful looking Sashimi platter while I did have a reasonable soup and Pork cutlet.

Crystal Jade is an outpost of an upmarket Cantonese style Singapore based chain. Their restaurants appear in several South Eastern cities and the food is consistently good. They of course have several branches in Singapore which are well worth visiting. If you ever are in KL or Bangkok, Hong Kong or Singapore do eat at one of their branches.

The High Tea was great fun. Instead of going to a restaurant and grabbing some lunch we had High Tea. Rather incongruous setting, a German Hotel in Thailand serving some very English sandwiches and European pastry. As I said it was fun.

Smartly folded napkin. Would win a contest

Cold Sake with the Japanese meal

8 pieces of Sashimi for HRH

Miso with Udon. Please note the clarity of the broth

Tonkatsu - Breaded fried pork cutlet

Bacon & Cheese Burger

Club Sandwich
Hot Muffins



The whole `Tea'

Another artfully folded napkin. Bit scary

Pork Loin with Carrot Cucumber and a spicy garlic sauce

Braised Beancurd with Minced Pork

Saute Beef with Satay Sauce

Stir Fried Egg Noodle with assorted meat and prawn

Thai Food in Thailand

Thai is one of the world’s more popular cuisines. The food has been influenced by the robust use of spices from India and the Chinese who have made this a formidable cuisine, loved the world over. As with other Asian cuisines, Thai food prides itself on balance, detail and variety, which are of great significance. Thai food is known for its balance of three to four fundamental taste senses in each dish or the overall meal: sour, sweet, salty, and sometimes bitter. Thai food by and large also very scores very high on aesthetics. Many dishes come beautifully plated with delicately carved vegetables on a pretty canvas of vivid colours.

This cuisine uses lots of herbs for flavour, freshness and vibrancy. The dishes are awash with Basil, Mint, Coriander, Kafir Lime leaves as well as Celery leaves. Salads play a large part in the meal. A salad is not just sliced cucumber, tomato and carrot but something that has a reasonable amount of knife skill applied to it. A classic Thai Papaya Salad or one of their minced salads (Larb) are particularly memorable. The dressing, if it could be called that, is a fine balance of sweet from palm sugar, sour from lime and vinegar and lashings of Fish Sauce to bring in the salt and the particular funky smell. Frankly all the salads we ate had the same dressing. Chillies play a large part too and a variety is used differently to influence spicing. The small, thin skinned red chilli is particularly spicy and getting it in your breakfast is not a particularly pleasant experience. The larger thick skinned red chillies are milder and impart a nice, warm chilly flavour without the vicious bite.

The stir fries are almost Chinese. Morning Glory which is loved in Thailand is stir fried with a dash of Soya Sauce, Garlic and Chilli. This is a dish that is almost entirely Chinese in its cooking technique. The Beef with Green Peppercorns is also entirely Chinese in its cooking technique. Both these dishes have the distinctive “Wok Hei” so typical of Chinese food. “Wok Hei” is the unique flavour imparted to food when it’s cooked in a wok on very high heat which causes partial combustion of the oil and the searing and caramelisation of the food in the wok. A good Chinese restaurant - at the risk of being condescending - even in India often gives you “Wok Hei” when you order a stir fried noodle.

The famous Yellow, Green and Red Curries owe their roots to India. A departure is the use of the aromatic leaves and the fact that unlike (i) the North Indian Curry don’t use a base of browned Onion, ginger garlic and tomato and (ii) the South Indian curry with its use of tempering; these curries are quite Indian in complexity, flavour, heat and richness. The Thai Curries have as long a list of ingredients as their Indian cousins and share several ingredients.

Thai deserts are a waste of time. Don’t bother eating them. They are generally coconut, sugar and fresh fruit based. Rather bland. Indian sweets are a much better option or if you can have an ice cream at one of the several Japanese, American and Swedish ice cream outlets in the malls.

All manner of fish is eaten as well as most meat. Of course there is a large Muslim community who do not eat pork. I have not seen too much of exotic meat or offal. The food is fairly tame in this aspect.

Everything had to be disinfected with copious quantities of beer. The local Singha beer, like its Asian cousins – Tiger, Asahi, Chang, Tsingtao has a sweet undertone which I don’t particularly like, but am willing to drink it under duress.

The levels of spicing differ widely. You can say you want spicy food and it would be normal for us Indians. The big problem is that often the food is very sweet. The belief being that sugar counters the spice, however I find this quite unpleasant. Be sure to tell your waiter at the time you order not to make the food sweet, this is far more important than asking for spice.

The photographs are of food that represents a sort of `Best of Thai’ or a selection of the most popular Thai food served in restaurants. It’s obviously not home cooking. I must apologise for the quality of some of the photographs. Some restaurants are so dimly lit that I had to use the flash which completely burns the colour in the food. Sorry about this again.

The Thai restaurants that we went to, which we fully recommend if you go to Phuket or Bangkok are:

The Ginja Thai Restaurant at the J W Marriott Resort and Spa, Phuket
Restaurant Thanying, Bangkok
Restaurant Somtam – a delightful salad bar in Siam Square – cheap as chips
Restaurant Baan Kanitha, Bangkok

Restaurant Thanying and Baan Kanitha are the restaurants most hotel concierges will direct you to. You could add Restaurant Baan Khun Mae, Restaurant Bolan and the Blue Elephant to this list. The Australian chef David Thompson has, in a `coals to Newcastle’ type situation, opened a branch of his Michelin starred Nahm Restaurant from London here in Bangkok. The problem with restaurants like Bolan, Nahm and Blue Elephant is that they are horribly expensive. They also have a more fusion approach to cooking. This type of food is referred to as “Thaifused” by the local press. A delightful word, if you ask me. 

Restaurant Somtam is a sort of fast food place. As the name suggests they have Somtam, the famous Thai Raw Papaya Salad as their centre and serve it with a lot of additional accompaniments. It has been voted by the local press as serving Bangkok’s best Som Tam. It was a cheap and cheerful joint close to our hotel and was inhabited by a very young crowd. Good for a quick small salad to take the hunger pangs off.

The Baan Kanitha has a wonderful appetizer that is served complementary. It would gladden every Indian heart. It consists of leaves, much like `Paan’ and bowls containing toasted grated coconut, small lime pieces, dried shrimp, peanuts, ginger, lemon grass, sliced green chilli and a jammy spicy sugary chutney. You make yourself a little packet and pop it into your mouth.

One point to ponder. Thai food is similar to both Indian and Chinese. These are flavours we Indians are familiar with. Mexican food too has many ingredients and flavours that Indians are familiar with. Lots of tomato, lots of chilli, corn, beans, lots of chapatti type breads like Tortillas but despite this both cuisines are very poorly represented in India. I wonder why? 

First the Salads and starters:
Poh Piah Sod - These were hybrid. A cross between Spring Rolls, Sushi and Vietnamese Rolls

Yum Woonsen - Glass Noodle and Minced Chicken Salad

Yum Nuer Yang - Beef Salad

Larb Nuer - Minced Beef Salad

The garnish that came with the Larb Nuer

Larb Moo - Minced Pork Salad

Som Tam - Raw Papaya Salad

Miang Come
Now the Stir Fries and odds and ends:

Nuer Phad Prik Thai On - Stir fried beef with green peppercorns

Phad Pak Boong - Stir Fried Morning Glory at Ginja

Phad Pak Boong - Stir Fried Morning Glory at Thanying

Tod Gra Tiem - Stir Fried Squid, Celery & Green Peppercorns

Phad Thai at Ginja

Phad Thai at Thanying

Phad Thai condiments at Thanying

Chiang Mai Sausage with Pork Crackling

Khai Jiew Nhaem - Thai Omlette with Pork Sausage

Phad Kaparao Khung - Shrimp with Chilli and Hot Basil
And finally the curries:

Gaeng Karee Nue Fak Tong - Yellow Curry with Beef and Pumpkin

Gaeng Keaw Wan Gai - Green Chicken Curry

Gaeng Phed Moo - Red Curry Pork

Gaeng Khiew Wan Moo - Green Pork Curry
And finally some pretty presentation:

A serving of Brown Rice.

Beautifully prepped Baby Corn sold in a supermarket

The napkin is inside the pyramid

A canape of sweet pork on pineapple with a Chilli to add some heat

Friday, October 28, 2011

Customer irritations

Well now that it’s the New Year i.e. post Diwali, why not contrast my previous post of Customer Delights with Customer Irritations and Aggravations. 

Overly obsequious and fawning

We cannot stand this kind of behaviour. This is especially prevalent in South East Asia. Prolonged welcomes, `Namaste’s’ or their Thai equivalents and the particularly disgusting and distressing trait of kneeling on the floor when addressing you. The moment you ask a hotel staff a question you are offered a chair/sofa to sit while the staff disappears to get an answer to what would by now have been a routine question for the staff. On securing the answer, the staff will kneel while you are seated and provide you with an answer. This manner of wanting to show that you are an honoured guest for whom they will lay down their lives is to my mind being unnecessarily fawning. I mean, come on you are a professional, act like one, don’t fawn.

Tip mongering

This is another disgusting practice which many in the hospitality industry and the areas around it [taxi drivers, guides et al] are often guilty of. I can understand government officials wanting bribes, baksheesh, speed money, call it what you like. That problem will be short lived if you believe what Kisan Baburao Hazare says. However this tip mongering and telling you stories of how hard they work, how incomes have disappeared, how children, parents wife’s are dying, all to extract a tip, are irritating. Quite often we see thru the bullshit. Once again, you are a professional, act like one stop moaning.

Pushy waiters

A long established tradition in restaurant menu writing is that the most expensive dishes appear on the top of the section, followed by the cheaper dishes. Thus in the meat section, for example the Australian Steak will be at the top, as will be the New Zealand Lamb chop, then Pepper Steak [Indian meat], then some chicken dish. Following so far? Now, after looking at the menu you are confused as to whether to order the Pepper Steak or the Chicken. You make the mistake of asking the performance monkey masquerading as a waiter for a selection out of your shortlist. He promptly recommends the Australian Steak. Hey, that was never on my radar!! I was not born yesterday. I do not want a frozen piece of meat. I am happy with Indian meat. I am unwilling to pay stupid prices, I know how to read, are some of the responses that come to my mind. Stop pushing expensive food.

Incorrect menus

It’s now trendy to not only list but describe in excruciating detail every ingredient in a dish. This is especially true of our fancier restaurants. What I find is that in many restaurants the dishes presented are not what was promised to you on the menu. Problems could be (i) that the ingredient does not exist in the form it is described, like, soggy noodles on a soup that has to have crisp noodles, or, (ii) a minuscule quantity or often not giving you the ingredient at all, like, Asparagus or bacon on a Pizza. Often these dishes are priced at a premium so you feel doubly cheated when the exotic ingredient does not show up in appreciable quantities. This problem assumes myriad forms, I am listing but two of them.


Fortunately, incorrect billing is now on the decline. However, actually getting a bill after a meal is a difficult proposition. One would think that the conclusion of a meal would be something every waiter and restaurant exists for. It is payback time; it’s when the waiter will be rewarded for his efforts by the punter leaving a tip. It’s time to get rid of a miserly complaining customer and get a fresh set of suckers in. But alas, no. Restaurants take ages to give you your bill. After finally getting the bill, its ages till the credit card or cash is collected. Then it’s a long wait, while you wriggle in your seat desperately wanting to go to the toilet and get rid of all the beer in your bladder but you are paralysed. The waiter has not got the card or change back. Finally, it looks like things are done and you can charge to the toilet and exit. Why does all this take so long? Can you not get remote card swiping machines? Finish the charade then and there, get rid of the punter and turn the table. No life is not so simple. Also mind you, the Shettys in Udipi restaurants don’t play silly buggers like the trendy restaurants. They know how to turn around tables.

These are my peeves. Would be glad if you dear reader could add some of your favourite irritations.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Customer delights

All of us have had encounters with the hospitality industry which have left us with a positive impression. This being the Diwali season, I thought why not give you some of our more pleasant hospitality experiences. Something that gets them additional brownie points, some small gesture that makes the users experience so much better. In advertising terms this is called ‘customer delight’

Before delving into the instances, let me make it clear that nothing is `free’. When you book a hotel room and have free breakfast, don’t fool yourself. Your room includes the cost of the breakfast. So when I use the word `free’ read it in that perspective or in the perspective that you are not going to be charged anything more than what you are paying.

Free Internet

Remember the time when hotels used to charge you an arm and a leg to make phone calls. That changed with the advent of mobile phones and soon we punters were laundering money for the mobile phone companies. Hotels lost out. Now times have changed once more. Today many of us absolutely depend on the internet and many of us have at least 2 internet dependent devices a Blackberry and a laptop. Despite this many hotels insist on charging you for using the internet. God knows who runs these dinosaurs. Getting free internet is one of the hospitality industries bigger favours.

Free Water

Getting safe drinking water outside Western Europe is a difficult proposition. Drinking tap water is decidedly chancy. Hotels that give you free bottled drinking water in your room, not a miserly 2 small bottles, but a never ending supply, win our vote for being generous.

More free water

The J W Marriott Resort and Spa Phuket have a series of swimming pools with the obligatory sun loungers. Sun devotees lie on these all day. It’s hot work. The pool attendants give you iced drinking water in plastic glasses thru the day. You do not need to ask, they keep replenishing your glass. What a thoughtful gesture. Just simple iced water on a hot day. No cost, no fuss, no drama but so thoughtful. Mind you they probably lose out on some beer drinking but a very thoughtful move.


At Restaurant Koffman at the Berkeley London, Her Royal Highness the Queen of Kutch orders a post prandial Calvados. Drink is brought to the table with a huge apology. The standard measure is 40 ml. The bottle contained only 35 ml. 5 ml short!! The Barman was cringingly apologetic and said that since it was a short pour he would charge for only half drink. Full marks for honesty.

Customer Relations Management [CRM]

Bistrot Galvin & le Gavaroche London. These guys have computer systems in place much like Dominoes Pizza have in Mumbai. Your phone number is tagged along with your name. So when you call and give them your number they immediately locate you and address you by name. The system also has a record of each visit you have made what you ordered where you were seated and any special notes that the staff may have fed in. This gives the wait staff a huge degree of knowledge and familiarity when dealing with you. Of course of you have thrown a tantrum or got pissed that would be in there too. Great CRM. Or, if you are paranoid this could be seen as an invasion of privacy or stalking. We of course think it’s great not to have to spell out our complicated surnames yet again!

Free breakfast

In today’s day and age Hotels have breakfast laid out anyway. I cannot understand why you cannot book a room with breakfast included automatically across the board. Why do we have to get caught up in this unnecessary charade of going down and signing a voucher/bill for breakfast, juggling with that infernal coffee machine in the room which is never plugged in, has a coiled wire which cannot reach the plug unless uncoiled and, to top it all, never has water in the kettle. Come on hoteliers, we guys need breakfast, the more lavish the better. It’s one of life’s luxuries. None of our wives, husbands or parents can make us as good a breakfast as a hotel breakfast. We are sitting ducks give us breakfast. And get rid of those horrible coffee machines just too complicated to deal with in a strange room in a strange city with a hangover caused by someone else paying for the booze last night. Full marks to a hotel without a kettle and with a lavish free breakfast. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Jaffer Bhai's Delhi Durbar

This starts when life was simpler and choices were fewer. In the late 1970s during my final years in school, as a treat we used to go to the canteen at Sahakari Bhandar at Regal for lunch. Nothing fancy, a Dosa and a vegetable cutlet is what I can remember. After passing out of school we used to save our pocket money and as a special treat, after a movie, go to eat at Delhi Darbar also at Regal. I remember loving every morsel of the Biryani and Butter Chicken that we ate. I had the privilege of eating with two of my closest friends both of whom are Bohri’s. They had the advantage of having eaten this kind of food far more frequently than me and they were always in raptures about the biryani. They always insisted that biryani has to be mutton biryani. Chicken was not acceptable. Vegetable biryani was impossibility, an imposter, a fake a make believe dish. With the passage of time, one friend is now in the US and the other is still here in Mumbai. And yes, we are still close friends.

A simple Dosa was a treat, a biryani has always remained a festive dish, but, who eats this kind of food anymore. We love our so called `conti’ restaurants – Indigo, Indigo Deli, Table and the newer European franchisees like Le Pain Quotidien. Greasy food is a no no.

Over the years I have been eating at Delhi Darbar at Regal of and on. Then the brothers who owned this fought. This resulted in a split and Delhi Durbar at Regal along with an outlet in Dubai went to one division of the family. The original Delhi Darbar at Dongri went to the other branch who rebranded it Jaffer Bhai’s Delhi Durbar. Jaffer Bhai’s Delhi Durbar now has many branches in Mumbai with a reasonable restaurant at Metro cinema.

In the last couple of weeks after a few drinks at Mumbai’s hallowed Bombay Gymkhana we have eaten at Jaffer Bhai’s Delhi Durbar. The food here is far far superior to the Delhi Durbar at Regal. Unfortunately, last night I did not carry the camera so there are no photos to show you from our latest visit.

First impressions are always important and Jaffer Bhai’s Delhi Durbar did not disappoint. The first time we went there, the Manager was extremely courteous and even though the restaurant was bursting at the seams, he promised us a table in 10 minutes. He came back cheerfully a few minutes later. Beamed at us and said ‘Only 6 minutes’. Extremely charming. He then went on to recommend their specialities and supervised the entire service. The next time we visited the restaurant, he recognised us immediately and promptly ushered us in with a huge smile. The rest of the staff too are cheerful and extremely attentive.

The restaurant is two levels and is air-conditioned. Fresh looking pink onions, limes and pickle are swiftly delivered. Then the order taker turns up and uses a PDA [Personal Digital Assistant] and electronically passes the order to the kitchen. No more use of papers and writing pads. Pretty impressive for such a small chain. Not seen it in any other restaurant in Mumbai. The food turns up promptly, is very hot and looks lively.

To start we had Mutton Cream Tikkas and Mutton Cutlets. Cream Tikka is a unique dish. Boneless lamb is marinated in cream, spices and then deep fried after an egg coating and served on a small skewer. The Mutton Cutlets are minced meat patty’s, once again coated in egg and fried. Absolutely top class. It’s a very good idea to buy a few Mutton Cutlets wrap them individually in foil and freeze them at home. You can then, when hunger strikes, whip them out, thaw them and make a delicious Indian burger with onion, pickle and green chutney. We also had what they call Mutton Plain Fried, which is Lamb covered with a masala and deep fried. This paragraph is being written a few weeks after the last visit. We went to the restaurant oce again and the very friendly and efficient young Restaurant Manager Sayed Faisal recomended two starters. One was Chicken Lazeez Boti which is a Tandoored Chicken Tikka. Very nice. The second starter recomended was a Mutton Chop called Dum Ka Chop. This was double mutton chops pan fried. Sensational! You must get these the next time you go.

For our main course we ordered a Mutton Nehari which is lamb shanks cooked in smooth gravy. This is typically something had for breakfast and has its origins in North India though it’s now vastly popular in Hyderabad. This is something we have very often at Dum Pukht at the ITC. I must say that the Jaffer Bhai’s Delhi Durbar comes quite close to the Dum Pukht version. The meat is falling off the bone and the sauce is delightfully clear and smooth. In the Jaffer Bhai’s Delhi Durbar version they thicken it slightly with Flour while at the Dum Pukht it’s thickened with collagen from bones. The Dum Pukht version is served with not only a Lamb Shank but has a portion of ribs/chops too. Jaffer Bhai’s Delhi Durbar Nehari is a fraction of the price of what you pay at Dum Pukht. It’s really quite wonderful.

Dabba Ghost is another of their signature dishes. Probably has its origins in our Mumbai. Lamb is cooked in mild gravy thickened with a roux, with Macaroni, yes Macaroni added, then at service time beaten egg is poured on top and hot oil added to cook the egg. The last process has some variations but the resulting dish is almost comfort food. Soft, mild, warm and damn tasty.

Next on was Butter Chicken, a nostalgic request. This was just the same as I remember from all those years ago. Real tandoori chicken cooked in a tomato cream sauce. Not boiled chicken added to a red gravy which is what you get most often.

We have also had Sali Boti which is Parsi in origin. Jaffer Bhai’s Delhi Durbar serves a bastardised version of it. Quite distinctly Mughalai and none of the Parsi sweet sour spicy flavours came thru. Not bad but not authentic.

All this food was mopped up with something called Reshmi Paratha. This is a deep fried Roomali Roti. Sinful, calorie laden, artery clogging and divine. Last but not the least we had a Mutton Biryani. The guests on the table murmured their dis-satisfaction at this. Too oily, not enough masala were some of the comments. They were right, it was a bit disappointing. But it was a Biryani, the rice and lamb was cooked in layers. This was not a stir fried mutton masala pulao which is what passes as Biryani most of the time.

All in all, do make a visit to Jaffer Bhai’s Delhi Durbar. You will not be disappointed. It’s not fine cuisine, its robust, masaledar, honest food and its cheap as chips. Its food from the past, no fancy garnish no fancy crockery. Your dining companions will generally be Muslims eating the food with gusto. What more could be a sign that the food is authentic?

Have a look at the photographs. I must say that with photographing Indian food the dominant colours are red, brown and combinations of red and brown. This is across the board. Have a look at any of the photos in my posts on Dakshin or Peshawari or Gaylord or Apoorva. They are all this boring colour. Sorry about this.

Mutton Cream Tikka

Mutton Plain Fried

Mutton Cutlet

Mutton Plain Fried

Lazeez Boti

Dum Ka Chop

Dum Ka Chop

Dabba Ghost

Butter Chicken

Mutton Nehari

Mutton Biryani