All it takes is a bite to be teleported to the grand palace in Thailand. The aroma of Kaffir lime leaves in Thai noodles has chairs turning into thrones and that supple chicken dumpling in soups has us smiling like satisfied kings and queens. The Royal Thai Food Festival, on till November 17 at Benjarong, a Thai restaurant, is a ticket to those who are in love with the two words — Authentic and Thai.
“Buoyed by the success of last year’s festival, we have organised it again,” says Ram Kumar, Benjarong’s Brand Chef. Chef Tharee Charupas, who has flown all the way from Thailand for the food festival, says that the festival is called ‘royal’ because the menu is designed to make every person feel the King of Thailand.
But a king cannot afford not recognising the basic Thai spices, can he? Helping out with the taste of royalty, Charupas tells us how the Thai Galangal, the main ingredient in Thai cuisine, is different from the Indian ginger, or how the Thai red chillies are as hot as Thai women. The analogy works. We take extra servings of the crispy fried chicken with cashews that have the red beauties tossed around in all its hotness.
A few eyes sparkle with the sign of recognition as we taste what seems like the humble Indian biriyani. Called Khao Pahd Phak, cooked with either vegetables or chicken, the dish can fit neatly in an Indian menu, provided the galangal is replaced with garlic. “Thai food has a lot of influence from the Indian masala. The native Masamman curry probably derived its name from masala,” says the chef as several heads nod in silence, chewing mouthfuls. However, starters like Goong Sarong, prawn spring rolls wrapped in wonton sheets or Tung Tong, the crispy fried pouches stuffed with water chestnuts and vegetables, stand as part of an unadulterated Thai cuisine.
We pop the Tung Tong pouches in like poppins. While we are at it, Chef Charupas produces a plate with tiny bowls of peanuts, sweet sauce, onions, lemons, galangal and fried coconut. We shoot confused looks at each other. “Is this a ritual?” a few ask. Charupas says, “This is how we greet any friend who comes to our place.” She then takes out a cabbage leaf, makes a cup out of it and stuffs in all the ingredients. “This is called Mein Khum,” she says.
Some of us succeed with the cabbage origami, others just nibble at the peanuts. Pairs of chopsticks lie untouched as hands fidget with moist dices of fish that peep out from within a tight wrap of pandanus leaf.
Chefs gulp down their laughter as people attempt their first Thai words. They understandingly serve Grathong Thong Je, cute little rice tartlets filled with corn, green peas and water chestnuts, to the demands of ‘Tongs Tong...’
The feast ends with a bowl of sago balls playing peek-a-boo with stripes of coconut.