Sunday, October 21, 2012

Peppers from the Kitchen Garden

The joys of our kitchen garden continue to amaze and delight us. Besides the usual Tomatoes, Basil, Mint, Chives, Kadi Patta, various types of Chilli et al; we also planted and successfully grow Pak Choy, Bitter Gourd (Karela), Cucumber and Aubergine. We have now planted Coriander, Beetroot and Cauliflower and are hoping for a delightful winter harvest.

Over the last few weeks we have been watching the red, yellow and green peppers we had planted months ago growing and getting ready to harvest. We had bought the seeds the last time we were in London. The seed packet said that we were buying coloured Peppers. I thought we would get large Capsicums. I was wrong. I must tell you they are truly pretty plants and the peppers seem like little coloured lanterns hanging from the branches. The pots look almost ornamental. As we monitored the growth of the peppers, we thought the peppers would grow to the normal pepper size but soon realised we had on our hands some sort of bonsai pepper plant and the peppers would not grow larger than the size of baby aubergines. So last weekend, we harvested all the ripe multi-coloured peppers and made ourselves a delightful snack. My guess is that you could use this with Capsicums available in the Indian markets.

Peppers hanging on the plant

Plucked and washed

Stuffed with the Feta

This is what we did.

Remove the stalk and slit the Capsicum. Remove the seeds.

Take some Feta, add some Zatar [if you have it] or what is known in India as Pizza Spice - oregano and mix well.

Fill the cleaned peppers with this mixture. Place in an oven-safe dish and bake at 180 degrees in a pre-heated oven for about 20 minutes.

Eat hot or cold. Delicious


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Salad Nicoise - Something well worth making

Here is something for you to think, imagine and if you feel like, do.

Scene 1

Its lunchtime on a glorious late summer day. You are in Nice, Provence on the coast of France. The Riviera. The famous Cote d’Azure. You are sitting in a cafe by the sea. Brilliant blue water, the famous Lighthouse in the distance. Seagulls swooping down from the sky. The clatter of knives and forks on plates and the tinkle of wine glasses. The sun is blazing down but you are in the shade and enjoying the cool breeze. You order the most famous salad, Salad Nicoise and a glass of white wine. The salad soon arrives, cold and refreshing and the wine glass delightfully frosted. You have a bite of your salad and a sip of your wine. You sigh contentedly. This is as close to paradise as you can get.

Scene 2

Its lunchtime on a glorious late summer day. You are in Mumbai. You are at home on a Sunday. The snarl of auto rickshaw engines in the background duelling with the angry buzz of marble cutting machines that somehow are always in use. The sound of motor car horns. Crows cawing loudly. You pull out the delicious Salad Nicoise you made that morning, pour yourself a glass of cold white wine and sit in your balcony [which the builder has sold you as a flower bed] in the heat and cacophony and try and think how much you would give to be in Nice. Alas! Sigh!

Well, I have news for you. Scene 1 is easily doable. It just costs a fair amount of money. Buy a ticket, hop onto a plane and lo and behold you can be in Nice. Scene 2 is slightly more difficult though much much cheaper. HRH the Queen of Kutch and I made a Salad Nicoise and, let me tell you it was delicious. Here is how to do it.

Salad Nicoise

Ingredients for 2

For the salad

1 Iceberg Lettuce or 1 bunch Green Salad leaves washed dried and separated
3 small tomatoes. The reddest you can find washed and quartered
150 grams French Beans, topped, tailed, boiled in salted water till soft and cooled. Cut into 1 inch pieces
3 eggs hard boiled peeled and quartered
4-6 small [Dum Alu sized] Potato or 2 normal sized potatoes boiled peeled and sliced
1 tin Tuna preferably packed in oil not water, drained
Green and/or Black olives

For the dressing

1 part vinegar – 1 teaspoon or 1 tablespoon or 1 ladle or 1 mug [you know what I mean]
4 parts Olive oil
Whisk everything together – keep aside

To assemble the Salad

Take a large, preferably white, plate and place the Salad leaves on top in one flat layer
Arrange all the other vegetables attractively, in whatever form you like
Place the quartered eggs around the vegetables
Make a mound of the Tuna in the centre of the plate
Add some salt and pepper
Place the salad in the fridge for at least a couple of hours till thoroughly cooled.
Place the wine in the fridge to cool

At lunchtime pull out the Salad and pour on the dressing.

Open the bottle of wine pour yourself a glass

Eat, drink, imagine and sigh loudly.

Friday, October 12, 2012

What is `Indian Chinese'?

Chinese food is something we are all, in our own way familiar with. Yes, yes, I know that using words like `Chinese food’, `Indian food’, `Italian food’ et al are incorrect. It’s all about the regional variations like Sichuan, Cantonese, Mughalai, Chettinad, Northern Italian and so on and so forth. But that is not really my point here, so bear with me when I use the catch-all term Chinese food.  

The Chinese have migrated and have now settled down all over the world. You have `Chinatowns’ in several cities, Bangkok, London, New York and San Francisco are some that come to mind. Many Australian cities too have large Chinese communities. The Chinese food in these cities is, firstly, quite good and, secondly, the Chinese localities have some really authentic regional Chinese food. In fact, the street signs in these areas are often in Mandarin and when walking down the streets you will find that many of the Chinese inhabitants barely speak the local language, they are, literally, as the cliché goes, `off the boat’. These Chinatowns have their self contained restaurants, grocery stores, dry goods stores, utensils and even local language newspapers. I have also been to Tangra, the Chinatown of sorts in Calcutta. Unlike all the Chinatowns in the rest of the world, the Chinese influence in Tangra has been much diluted over the years and the amalgamation or integration is far greater than in any other Chinatown I have seen. Many explanations for this but once again, that is not the point.

The Chinese food available in the cities with a largish Chinese population is, more often than not, of a very high quality, far higher than anything available in India. This may have to do with the fact that the ingredients they use outside India are better, may have to do with the fact that people eat things other than just chicken as we do in India, and, may have to do with the fact that they have authentic Chinese cooking the food unlike us in India, where any person with slit eyes is regarded as being `Chinky’. As a matter of fact, when HRH and I travel out of the country, one of the more exciting things to do is to go to Chinatown and have some meals there, the food is really good. It doesn’t beat the food we ate in China, but it sure does give a good run for its money

A few days ago, a schoolmate of HRH the Queen of Kutch was visiting Mumbai. She has lived out of the country for several years now, including in Hong Kong. She said that she would like to eat what she called `Indian Chinese’ food. With this request, we recalled conversations with other Indian visiting India where they talked fondly of `Indian Chinese’ food. Either they wanted to eat `Indian Chinese’ when in India, or said that a new `Indian Chinese’ restaurant had opened in say, Philadelphia or that they missed `Indian Chinese’ food. In other words, the Indian Diaspora has a picture of / classifies / has a clear demand for a cuisine they call `Indian Chinese’. In fact, HRH, the Queen was in the US a few months ago and attended a party which had on its menu only, I mean only, `Indian Chinese’ food! I was surprised by this. I did not realise that `Indian Chinese’ food was a category of Chinese food, so distinct, albeit among the Indian Diaspora, that they would be able to miss it, want it and identify it.  

This got me thinking, and this got me writing.

We all know the stories of how Chinese food was Indianised. While there are many versions, one version is that Godmother of Indian Chinese food, or the person on whose doorstep the blame lies for creating `Indian Chinese’ is Ms Camelia Panjabi. She was the one who put two and two together by realising that the fiery chilli laden Sichuan cuisine would be loved by Indians and introduced Sichuan food at the Golden Dragon the Taj Mahal Bombay. The other version is that Nelson Wang is responsible for this. He was the one who invented `Man Chow’ Soup and Chicken Manchurian where chillies and coriander leaves were used. Both versions are correct. There are also several other factors that helped form this cuisine. This cuisine is looked on with much contempt by the food critics and intellectuals who dubbed it ‘Sino Ludhianvi’ food. I confess that I fall within this category!

To my mind, the question to be answered is, what is `Indian Chinese’ food, how can one define it, what are its characteristics? You cannot brand any Chinese food which has chilli and fresh coriander and `Indian Chinese’. There must be something more. Regional Chinese food does use chillies and coriander so that is not the answer. I decided to eat some `Indian Chinese’ food at what I consider `Indian Chinese’ restaurants and try and answer the question. These are my answers. I must confess that I am not a social scientist and I have not done any deep research. These answers are just rants, as the blog is supposed to be, and opinion. You can have your own. In fact it would be great if you shared your views here.

I am proceeding on the footing that `Indian Chinese’ is a clearly definable cuisine and most importantly, all Chinese food served in India is not `Indian Chinese’. In other words, there is Chinese food which you cannot call `Indian Chinese’. If you do not agree with this basic hypothesis, please don’t waste your time by reading further.

Answer 1 – Invented food

The simplest answer to the question is that `Indian Chinese’ is food which is wholly an Indian invention, unauthentic and unknown in any other country. Case in point the famous Manchurian Chicken and its Khandelwal friendly version Veg Manchurian or even Gobi [Cauliflower] Manchurian. This is a dish that Nelson Wang claims he invented. It consists of a black Soya Sauce based sauce flavoured with chopped garlic, chopped chilly and garnished with fresh coriander leaves. In the sauce you could have deep fried chicken meatballs/chicken nuggets/Paneer fingers or in the vegetarian version mixed minced vegetable balls deep fried. The batter coating helps thicken the sauce. This dish just does not exist in Manchuria or in any part of China.

Please note that you have to say Veg Manchurian. This is the correct dish. You never say vegetarian Manchurian, just Veg Manchurian.

Another example is the Szechwan Sauce. This is a lurid red sauce that is oily and extremely spicy. This is used like a French mother sauce to make several dishes.

Triple Szechwan Fried Rice is another deadly creation, generally made at road side stalls. This is a dish comprising of rice and noodle and vegetables, sometimes chicken, all stir fried together with lashings of Szechwan Sauce.

All dishes with names like Chow Chow, Man Chow, Hakka Noodles are all completely unknown in China.

These dishes are made-in-India and exist just here and in the minds (and homes?) of the Indian Diaspora.

Answer 2 – Gravy or Dry

Let’s face it. All of us have been brought up on Daal and rice. Say what you want about South Indians eating only rice and North Indians only wheat, a liquid Daal is always part of a meal. We require liquids in our meals and our food is quite wet and runny. Do you not find it amazing how little sauce is put on dishes made in the Masterchef series [Australian not Indian]? Yes we need our Daal. So when we are eating `Indian Chinese’ food what do we want most – gravy, sauce to make up for our loss of Daal. Most `Indian Chinese’ dishes are available in two versions - Dry or Gravy. We generally order the dry version with our drinks. The Gravy version is what we order for our `main course’.

Not only do we have to have Gravy, but we have to have masses of it to douse our rice or noodle. Quite often when eating `Indian Chinese’ we order carbohydrates - rice and noodle - along with a gravy dish. The Gravy helps us swallow all that carbohydrate. The Gravy has to be thickened with corn flour and has to have lashings of Aji No Moto in it. The fancy pants crowd does not like this at all. The fancy pants crowd believes that Corn flour clogs your stomach and Aji No Moto is poison.  In fact there is often so much Gravy that you have to fish for pieces of your `Gobi’ in the Manchurian.

Answer 3 – Deep fry everything

Lets also face it, anything deep fried tastes good. One of the characteristics of `Indian Chinese’ is that all food is deep fried and then doused in gravy. If the dish is dry, it’s deep fried anyway.

Take your pick, Prawns, Fish, Chicken, Paneer, Tofu and the delectable Chicken Lollypops, everything is coated in a batter and then deep fried. Then this is simply put into a Gravy of your choice and the dish is ready. No real skill required. Ask some low level cooks to make basically `bhajiyas’ of everything and keep them ready before service time. At service time simply make a gravy, throw in the `bhajiyas’ and go.

Do observe this the next time you are in an `Indian Chinese’ restaurant. The dishes are all interchangeable. Prawn could be served in Black Bean, Szechwan, Garlic, Sweet Sour, Chilli Garlic, Green, Hunan or Chilli sauce. Chicken could be served in exactly the same way. Paneer too. See what I mean?

Answer 4 – Use of `English’ vegetables

At an `Indian Chinese’ restaurant you will not get Chinese vegetables. By Chinese vegetables I mean a simple Pak Choy [Bok Choy], Chinese Cabbage, Kalian or Morning Glory [which is known in Mumbai as `Pani Bhaji’ – water vegetable]. No chance. Mind you all these are available easily in most markets. What you will get is Broccoli, Baby Corn, Mushroom, Carrot Cabbage and Asparagus. None of these are in any way authentic. You could order your vegetable in almost the same sauces I have listed. The heavy sauces just kill even these robust vegetables. A simple Soya sauce, un thickened with a bit of stock and garlic is all you really require to allow the Chinese Vegetables to shine thru. But no, we insist on these English Vegetables with the heavy sauce which could also be used as a Daal of sorts on the rice.

So folks, that is my set of answers. Am I correct? Do you have any more? I would be happy to read them.   

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Distill at Lebua State Tower & Duty free

I have two final points on the short holiday in Bangkok. Both are unconnected to each other.

Most people who recommend Bangkok will tell you that you must visit the bar called Distill at the top floor of the Lebua State Tower. Let me explain what they are talking about. The State Tower is a 68 storey building [not the tallest, but the third tallest in Thailand] and is located in the Silom area. The building is rather unattractive and made with lots and lots of concrete. It has no glass cladding. The architectural feature of this concrete tower is a golden dome on the very top. The building has mixed use; there are apartments, serviced apartments, offices and a so called five star hotel all located in the building. The building is located close to the Chaopyra River that flows thru Bangkok. Because the building is tall, from the higher floors the view is spectacular. From one side you can see the river and the city beyond the river. The other view is of the City of Bangkok. You get the picture?

Now what does any sensible person do if he has control of the top of such a tall building so stunningly located? He sets up an open air bar on the open terraces and a series of restaurants in the covered areas. He then calls the area the Dome. The bar has two parts called Distill and the Sky Bar each offering one of the two views I have written about. There are also restaurants serving Indian, Italian, Lebanese and Thai food. To add to the glamour, part of the highly successful sequel to Hangover, imaginatively called Hangover 2, was shot here and they make a big song and dance about it. There is also the hype about the fact that the view is great, and being there at sunset is super-great and eating there means you get the best food in Thailand.

Naturally HRH the Queen of Kutch and I set of to this heaven on earth, this gourmet paradise, this wondrous drinking place. This involved a taxi ride thru Bangkok’s legendary traffic. Getting there was somewhat of a pain. The informative taxi meter showed us that we had spent 32 minutes stationary in our 50 minute ride from Siam Kempinski to Lebua.

We arrived at the building to enter a most peculiar hotel lobby. The lobby was oddly shaped and full of the strangest bounders I had seen in Bangkok. Lots of hostesses in the lobby directing us to the elevators to take us up to the Dome. Tacky lobby and even tackier wobbly elevators. We were whisked and shaken up to the 68th floor where we exited into the waiting rapacious hard selling waiters at the bar. I was rather taken aback at this. I thought this was a fine dining place but this seemed like a bit of a seedy bar. We were among the first, soon more punters arrived and I was growing increasingly horrified. The fellow punters looked like what we would call `Hippies’ in Bombay except because there was a semblance of a dress code, the `Hippies’ wore trousers. Absolute Lonely Planet type people. Anyway, I thought, the view was good.

Waiter comes up and suggests Champagne without giving us a menu. By now my antennae was up and on full alert, so I asked for the menu. A glass of Champagne cost an eye popping Rs 2000/- per glass [USD 38]. Yes, unfortunately I was not born yesterday. I flipped a few pages and zeroed in on a beer, a single Singha equivalent to a Kingfisher at a heart wrenching Rs 800/- [USD 15]. HRH the Queen of Kutch had a small single malt which was about as expensive. Yes I know that we were paying for the view but this was, I thought beyond the limit charging. It is obvious that the hype and word of mouth is paying rich dividends here. It is the ‘must visit’ place in Bangkok and the Hotel have decided to fleece the punters for the pleasure.

We finished our drinks, paid our bill and took the jerky elevator ride down.

Tourist Trap. Do not even think of going here. Have a look at the photos. Decent view. If you want to drink with `Hippies’ and the Lonely Planet crowd then this is the place for you.

On to the second point. A useful travel tip, in case you already don’t know about it.

One of the more sensible things you can do is buy alcohol at a duty free shop in an airport. Please do remember that duty free does not mean profit free! Anyway, alcohol in duty free shops is much cheaper than in the city. The duty free prices for most alcohol at Mumbai Airport or if you want to be correct, Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, are low. Yes folks booze is cheap in Mumbai. Stay away from the Champagne and wines. Most spirits are extremely cheap by our retail shop standards. Mumbai Airport does not have a great selection, but all the normal stuff is available and is cheap.

To be extra sensible, my suggestion, is the following. When leaving India go to the Duty Free shop, select and pre order the booze you want. You can pay for it with your credit card. You get 5% off. It’s not much guys, 5% on a USD 50 booze bill is just USD 2.5 which is less than Rs 150/-  but Rs 150/- saved is a couple of burgers for the kids at MacDonald’s!! What the duty free guys do is give you a receipt. Then, when you arrive back in Mumbai, you pass Immigration, shuffle through another queue to show a havaldar the multitude of rubber stamps in your Passport and finally arrive in the Customs hall/Baggage claim area. Here is located a Duty Free shop. You march up to the shop show them your pre paid receipt and collect the booze. No sweat, no `kat kat’ no `jhanjhat’. No need to buy booze outside the country and carry it thru your flight in mortal fear of the bottles breaking. This was a revelation for me.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Din Tai Fung - Bangkok

We were scheduled to leave Bangkok. Sister Stonethrower and Senior Mrs. Stonethrower had to fly to Delhi. Their flight was early, in other words at a more sensible time. This left us time for a sumptuous lunch. Sister Stonethrower suggested Din Tai Fung a Taiwan based Dim Sum chain. She had eaten at the Singapore branch and enjoyed her meal. I had written about this in an early post on Hong Kong. The Hong Kong branch had a single Michelin star. So off we went to have our final meal in Bangkok. A typical Chinese lunch.

Din Tai Fung is located on the top floor of the Central World Mall in Siam Bangkok. It’s a large restaurant and we reached slap bang in the middle of lunch hour. On walking up to the desk, I was given a clipboard [you know the kind we used when going to an exam in school] on which was the menu and a pen. I had to mark out what we wanted. The whole process was delightful, numbers co-related to a dish and all dishes were helpfully photographed and put on a large poster. So we set about ordering what we wanted. Mind you this ordering process was done with no help from a waiter, the descriptions of the dishes were accurate and the photographs helped. If this works at the tens of thousands of MacDonald’s, Burger Kings and KFC’s why should it not work in a Chinese restaurant? Logic. That is the essential ingredient. Indians may have invented the zero, but logic is not our strong point. Before I digress let’s get on. Within minutes our table was ready, so I handed in the order and sat at the table.

Senior Mrs. Stonethrower wanted to have a Lemongrass Juice to drink. This was promptly ordered. I must say it looked nice.

Din Tai Fung is most famous for its Xiao Long Bao. These are really delightful steamed dumplings. They are very popular in Shanghai where you get them everywhere and some restaurants serve them with a straw. There is a reason for this. Finely chopped pork is stuffed into the casing. The casing is normally made of refined flour [Maida]. Then a spoon of pork aspic, jellied pork stock is put into the casing which is then closed and steamed. The result is that the minced pork cooks and the jelly turns liquid. So when you bite into the dumpling you get a mouthful of delicious pork soup with the minced pork. In Shanghai they sometimes make a very large dumpling which you cannot stuff into your mouth in one bite. So you use the straw to suck out the pork soup and then set about eating the dumpling.  [6 of these dumplings cost THB 145 which is about Rs 250 + 17% tax and service charge]. Do keep a note of these prices.

Xiao Long Bao

Also ordered were Shrimp Dumplings  [6 of these dumplings cost THB 165 which is about Rs 290 + 17% tax and service charge] and Spicy Pork Dumplings  [6 of these dumplings cost THB 160 which is about Rs 280 + 17% tax and service charge]. The good old Kailan which was the most expensive [THB 200 which is about Rs 350 + 17% tax and service charge] was ordered which arrived with an Oyster Sauce and Burnt Garlic. Totally delicious.

Shrimp Dumplings

Spicy Pork Dumplings

Kailan with Oyster Sauce & Garlic

A deep fried Prawn Pancake  [THB 195 which is about Rs 340 + 17% tax and service charge] was also ordered. This was an intriguing dish. This was basically a Sesame Prawn on Toast which we know and love, but without the toast. No waste of time if you know what I mean, just delicious prawn deep fried without toast/bread to bulk it up.

Prawn Pancake

The meal would not have been complete without some noodle to fill us up. HRH the Queen of Kutch desired Dan Dan Noodles  [THB 150 which is about Rs 265 + 17% tax and service charge]. These are spicy and have a delightful Sesame, Soy and Chilli sauce. I got myself a Soup Noodle with additional dumplings  [THB 195 which is about Rs 340 + 17% tax and service charge]. I just love soup noodles.

Soup Noodles with Dumplings

Dan Dan Noodles

We had slightly under ordered.  The consensus was a Prawn Fried Rice  [THB 225 which is about Rs 400 + 17% tax and service charge]. This was outstanding. Juicy Prawns nuggets of golden Egg, flecks of green Spring Onion and that delightful short grained Oriental rice. One of the better fried rice dishes I have eaten.

Prawn Fried Rice

All in all, a most delightful meal. Top quality Chinese food at a price of Rs. 900/- per head. Ok we were eating in a Mall but the food was top quality. This was very good quality Dim Sum and Noodles. The quality of the Dim Sum from fillings and casings to actual formation and crimping was of a high quality not available anywhere in India except in really expensive restaurants. I have set out the price of each dish. Is something at Mainland China even close to this in quality? I think not. The question of matching the price simply does not arise. Mainland China would be vastly more expensive.

Do eat here if you are in Bangkok. And, no, you do not have to eat here because you are sick of Thai Food. This is good enough to eat at by itself.

Now you know why Bangkok?   

Crystal Jade Restaurant - Bangkok

As I have written, all of us, Senior Mrs. Stonethrower, Sister Stonethrower, HRH the Queen of Kutch and I are at an inflection point. Do we really like Thai food, however good it may be? The food absolutely assaults your taste buds. The spice with use of chillies, the various herbs – Kafir Lime, Thai Basil, Lemongrass, Garlic, the various rhizomes – Turmeric, Ginger, Galangal, the Fish Sauce, the Dried Shrimp, the Shrimp Paste, the souring agents and the contrasting use of Palm Sugar make, in my opinion, Thai Food rather difficult to eat with any degree of regularity. After the meal at Nahm and Baan Kanitha we had our fill of Thai food. There is just so much of the mix and match Red, Green and Yellow curry with Chicken, Duck, Shrimp, Fish, Pork and Beef that one can eat. Just so much Som Tam and just so much of other salads.

An executive decision was made. We would not eat any more Thai food on this visit but would stick to Chinese food. Being in the Far East, Oriental cooking techniques are in the blood of local cooks. They cut all vegetables on a diagonal, mincing of ginger and garlic comes naturally. The use of Soy Sauce and, horror of horrors, use of Aji No Moto is almost universal. Oriental/Asian ingredients are readily available. The cooks are fully in the know of Asian flavour profiles. So eating Chinese and Japanese food is a sensible thing to do in the East.

We went for dinner to Crystal Jade, which we had visited the last time we were in Bangkok. We were looking forward to the meal. Senior Mrs. Stonethrower was especially excited as she wanted to eat Sweet Sour Pork which she ate as a child at Cantonese restaurants in Bombay. Today, in Bombay you don’t get this dish, no one eats pork and everyone wants spicy food. So she was looking forward to eating some good Sweet Sour Pork. We set about ordering our meal.

To start we had Carrots and Cucumbers rolled in Pork Loin. This was served with a Garlic Sauce. We had ordered this the last time. It was excellent. One bite gave you a mix of delightful textures, the creaminess of the pork loin and the crunch of the carrots.

Carrots and Cucumbers in Pork Loin

Senior Mrs. Stonethrowers request of Sweet Sour Pork turned up. Nice, it did taste like the Sweet Sour Pork of the old days. Crunchy deep fried Pork in a tomato sauce based sauce with Pineapple. A tad sweet but nice.

Sweet Sour Pork

Next up was another Senior Mrs. Stonethrower request, deep fried Prawns with Wasabi. This was different to the Prawns at Four Seasons. Here the Prawns were larger and the Wasabi sauce was white sauce based unlike at Four Seasons where the sauce was Mayonnaise. Middling and not a patch on Four Seasons.

Wasabi Prawns

 Also ordered was a Beef with a Soy based sauce with Onion and noodles with superior fungus. So instead of the usual Button Mushrooms, we had some fresh Shitake, some Wood Ear Mushrooms and some other unidentifiable mushrooms. I needed my fix of greens so a Kailan with Garlic rounded of the order. Most dished arrived with a Chrysanthemum Tea Jelly, which I did not have the daring to eat. The ladies all ate the Jelly and were delighted. God bless them and keep them happy!

Beef Soy and Onions

Noodles with Superior Fungus

Kailan with Garlic

Chrysanthemum Tea Jelly

On the whole, the food was decent and no dish particularly wowed us. The meal did end up costing as much as a meal in a reasonable restaurant in India - I clarify, Mainland China is expensive – this food was cheaper than Mainland China. I can assure you that it was far superior to anything that Mainland China can serve you.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Nahm Restaurant - Bangkok

Often when we are in London, our friends say that what excites them the most about India is the buzz, the life, the noise, the feeling that so much is going on. They compare the hustle bustle in India with what they consider to be drab, lifeless, recession and depression in the West. On the surface, I agree, there is really a lot of activity in India, be it on the streets, the cars, the sheer cacophony. However, scratch a little deeper and you will realise that most of this activity is simply people chasing their own tails. Please do not react to this last statement, the point of this post is not to delve into the activity in India. My point is that if you think India and especially Bombay [sorry Raj and Uddhav -  Mumbai] has activity, you should come to Bangkok. My God [sorry Raj and Uddhav - `Arre Deva’] the level of activity in Bangkok is several notches up. The malls are absolutely crowded, the streets are chocker block full with cars, hawkers and people. The restaurants have customers busy eating all the time. It’s quite an active place.

Dinner on Day 3 was to be at Nahm. We had booked from Mumbai a few days ago when planning this visit to Bangkok. A bit of background on Nahm. David Thompson is an Australian chef who spent many years in Thailand. Deeply influenced by Thai food he started and ran two restaurants in his native Australia – Darley Street Thai and Sailors Thai. Then, he went on to open Nahm in the Halkin Hotel in London. It was the first Thai restaurant to gain a Michelin Star. This is quite an achievement. Despite all you read about the Michelin guys not knowing anything about non French food, the standards to get a Michelin star in Europe are very high, much higher than in Japan, USA, Hong Kong and Singapore.  Therefore to get a star in London is serious. In 2010 David Thompson opened Nahm in Bangkok. This too was seen as a revolutionary step. A foreigner opening a Thai restaurant serving classic Thai food in Bangkok was looked on with much surprise. David Thompson has also written 2 books on Thai Food. Both are really excellent. The recipes have been `codified’ tested and have actual measurements. The books have lavish photographs and are well worth buying.

A short taxi ride thru Bangkok’s horrible traffic brought us to the Metropolitan Hotel on Sathorn Road where Nahm was located.  A well decorated restaurant with lots of wood and the classic Thai orchids placed on each table. The restaurant manager was a European and the waiters, though Thai were rather well trained, efficient could easily comprehend what we were saying and had charm.

We got 3 menus. One was a wine list, one was the drinks card and the third was the menu. Since it was a celebration, a bit of bubbly was in order, so I asked for a bottle of Prosecco. Champagne is really prohibitive in Thailand as it is in India. Sister Stonethrower had done her own research and said she wanted a Tom Yumtini – a Martini with Tom Yum flavours. This was the restaurants signature cocktail. So why not, we ordered 3. Not bad, however low on alcohol and seemed like a spicy fresh lime soda. After a few sips the drink was abandoned.

The main food menu was extensive. The restaurant did offer a tasting menu of 6 courses. This seemed a very attractive proposition. You got all 4 starters on the menu. You then chose any one salad, any curry, any one relish and any one stir fried dish and each person chose his own soup. Desert was also offered. Since we all ate everything this presented no challenge to the waiter. In fact he proposed that instead of one curry, we could order two.

I am not going to describe each dish that we ordered. This post would become very long. I must say that the food was exceptional. It was classic Thai food, not made mild for foreigners, it was robust, genuinely `tikkha’. All the dishes were very good and probably the best examples we had of Thai food. The starters were beyond exceptional, they were really the stars of the meal. Each and every one of them was incredible. They were made with a high degree of skill. The textures and contrasts of each were admirable. You must have read about how Thai flavours are `fresh’ with the balance of lime, salty and sweet. The lemongrass and Kafir Lime notes, the blast of the chilli are all classic Thai flavours. All this was on offer in every dish. Therein lies a problem. Your palate is assaulted and it gets a bit much. The meal was well worth it for you to realise what good authentic Thai food can be, in a sophisticated atmosphere. The meal was not cheap, however after eating food of this quality, where, according to me, every Thai element is `full on’ you will reach you own conclusion as the whether you really like Thai food. I for one am confused. To me Thai food can get a bit much. But I once again clarify, this was really good food.

Great photographs, even if I say so myself. Enjoy.

Do visit this restaurant when in Bangkok. It is a culinary Tour De Force.
The beautiful Orchids on the table

Tom Yumtini

Amuse Bouche - Caramelised minced Pork and Chicken on a Pineapple slice

Starter - Chicken and Longan stuffed inside a Tuille or wafer

Starter - Smoked Fish Tapioca and Peanut Dumplings
Starter - Southern Grilled Mussels

Starter - Spicy Pork with Mint, Peanuts and crunchy rice  to be eaten with Betel leaves or `Paan'.
Soup - Crab & Snake Gourd Soup with Egg, Pepper & Corriander
Soup - Hot Sour Soup of Chicken with Straw Mushrooms, Lemongrass, Chilli & Lime
Soup - Clear Soup of Roast Duck with Thai Basil & Young Coconut

Salad - Salad of Deep Fried Soft Shelled Crab with Pomelo, Chillies & Coriander
Curry - Grilled Wagyu Beef with Bai Yar

Curry - Coconut & Tumeric Curry of Blue Swimmer Crab with Calamansi Limes

Relish - Minced Prawn & Pork simmered in Coconut Cream with young Chillies, red  Shallots and Coriander  + Fresh Vegetables + Fried Carp

Fresh Vegetables
Stir Fried Steamed & Grilled - Pork Cheek Grilled
Roast Tomato Relish with the Pork Cheeks
Raw Mango Sugar and Chilli

                        Pandanus noodles with black sticky rice water chestnuts, tapioca and coconut cream


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Four Seasons Restaurant - Bangkok

Day 2 in Bangkok started with us visiting Chinatown in Bangkok, the area known as Yaowarat. This is really totally different in look, feel, smells and atmosphere from the highly westernised shopping driven frenzy that is in Central Bangkok. Chinatown is a delight. Shops selling gold jewellery, clocks and Chinese medicines line the main road. The alleys are a maze of shops selling Chinese goods that are so unique that they belie description. You can see several types of dried mushrooms, bags upon bags of dried shrimp in all sizes, racks of dried squid and other fish, wooden barrels of preserved greens, and, other pickled vegetables I have no idea of. The wet market has fishmongers, butchers and vegetable vendors. All this in narrow alleys with delivery guys hustling to get thru. With my nonexistent Thai and their nonexistent English all questions lead to poor comprehension.

Chinatown is a must visit if you are in Bangkok. We had to buy our Chinese food, so it was Chinese Sausage, Shaoshing Wine, Shitake Mushrooms and Sister Stonethrower wanted some Chinese Tea. All this wandering took a few well spent pleasant hours.

After the disaster at Baan Kanitha we were determined to make amends.

We have had many meals at Four Seasons, the Cantonese restaurant from London with branches at Queensway and Soho. Their roast duck, roast pork are really good. It did seem strange that a Cantonese restaurant from London would open in Bangkok, but strange are the ways of the world. So here we were eating at Four Seasons in Bangkok. This was in keeping with our Chinese theme for the day.

One menu. The last page contained the drinks. A good omen. The restaurant had a happy buzz and staff seemed friendly. The beer test revealed that a Singha cost a mere 70 Thai Baht, a far cry from the outrageous 250 at Baan Kanitha.

To start, we ordered, at Sister Stonethrowers request, what was described on the menu as 3 inch Spare Ribs. Outstanding. Rich meaty ribs in a gooey sticky deeply flavoured sauce. The texture of those ribs shines thru in the photograph as well. Truly delicious.

3 inch Spare Ribs

As our main course HRH the Queen of Kutch ordered a Mapo Tofu which, to be fair, is not a Cantonese dish, but all the same it was decently prepared. Rather mild in its spicing and low on the oil but not bad all the same. To keep the meal healthy we ordered Kailan with Garlic. This was delicious. Every bite of the Kailan had me thinking of how nourishing the vegetable must be!! All that vivid green chlorophyll entering my ravaged system!

Mapo Tofu
Kailan & Garlic

As a staple we had ordered a Ho Fun Beef. This is a flat noodle stir fried with beef. Once again very good.

Ho Fun Beef Noodles
All the food that was served came to the table piping hot. It seemed alive and vibrant and tasted really good. We were hungry with all the walking we had done. So once we were thru with the food we all felt we could do with some more. So, Sister Stonethrower ordered deep fried prawns with Wasabi sauce. This was the dish of the day. Steaming hot tempura fried prawns topped with a sweet sharp wasabi flavoured sauce. Bliss!

Wasabi Prawns
All in all a really good meal at prices that would compare very favourably with a meal at say a Lings Pavilion in Mumbai. Its no great secret, the meal with 2 beers cost an equivalent of Rs. 2800/- And quality, that sorry to say, beats most Chinese restaurants in India. That is why Bangkok!

After we left the restaurant and were walking back to the hotel we saw a shop selling Moon Cake, a Chinese delicacy, so we bought two. One was Custard and the other was Green Tea. The Chestnut one was quite nice, not too sweet, very rich and similar in taste and texture to a `Kalakand’ – Milk Cake we get in India. The Green Tea one was too mild for me but Sister Stonethrower preferred it to the Custard one.

Custard Moon Cake

Green Tea Moon Cake

Do visit Four Seasons Restaurant when in Bangkok. Do visit Bangkok!