A taste of Asia: Cafe De Bangkok

This addition to the restaurant’s repertoire, created in collaboration with Malaysian celebrity chef Kuan Lai, showcases a blend of flavours, especially from Japan, Malaysia, and China.
Salmon Maki
Salmon Maki

KOCHI: Inspired by their culinary travels in Southeast Asia, S Sujesh and Santhosh Baby decided to introduce the mesmerising flavours of Thailand to Kochi. The duo partnered up and started a franchise of the renowned restaurant Cafe De Bangkok, a multi-cuisine restaurant two years ago.

“Before we started the franchise, Thai cuisine wasn’t prominent in the city. A few restaurants served the cuisine back then but the places lacked authenticity. That’s when we bumped into Thai chef Ratchadaporn Puthong who runs the Cafe De Bangkok in Chennai. After that there has been noturning back, we brought the business to Kochi,” says Sujesh.

Now, the restaurant is raising the bar with a pan-Asian food fest, Oishi. This addition to the restaurant’s repertoire, created in collaboration with Malaysian celebrity chef Kuan Lai, showcases a blend of flavours, especially from Japan, Malaysia, and China.

And it is for tasting the Oishi offerings, that I entered the restaurant on a fine Monday evening. Chef Lai greeted me with a warm smile and pointed to the Japanese dishes on the special menu.

“There has been a surge in all things Japanese lately. From what I’ve learned so far, Kochi is no different. The city has many restaurants that serve Japanese cuisine. However, knowing the soul of the food is important. Be it a bowl of Ramen, or Sushi, at the end of the day, Japanese food is an art,” he says.

Nyonya coconut veg curry
Nyonya coconut veg curry

The tasting began with the popular Salmon Maki. Unlike other sushi in Kochi, it features two types of salmon. Fresh salmon is placed on top and smoked one is wrapped in sticky rice, crispy seaweed and cheese. Instead of using just a sliver of wasabi with a touch of soy sauce, the chef showed me the proper way to prepare the dip — mix a small amount of wasabi with soy sauce on a plate, then dip the sushi into the mixture. A single bite delivered an instant burst of smokey flavour, and the dual layers of salmon added a rich texture.

The next on the list was the chef’s signature Malaysian cuisine — a brief pause from the Japanese dishes. He brought the exclusive Nyonya food to the table.

“The Nyonya cuisine is known for its mix of Chinese and Malay. It came into being after the descendants of Chinese immigrants started marrying native Malaysians. The cultural fusion is reflected not just in the cooking style, but also in the clothing of the people,” explains the chef.

The Nyonya coconut veg curry with rice is exquisite. The curry has tofu puffs, cabbage, eggplant, and a lot more veggies cooked primarily in coconut milk. The mix highlights the Malaysian flavour whereas the glass noodles in the curry hint at the Chinese influence. The curry is the standout dish. When served with rice, it is a complete meal, bursting with flavours that leave no need for any other accompaniments.

Then came the beef rendang curry served with roasted bamboo jasmine rice cakes. “This dish is an occasional one. It takes too long to cook and requires tremendous effort in the making. People are sure to pay a price for it,” adds the chef.

The beef is cooked in coconut milk and the tender pieces are easy to pull apart. The semi-gravy dish reminds one of Kerala beef, the only difference is that it’s less spicy. The roasted rice is wrapped in banana leaf and it can be mixed with beef and a special Nyonya achar.

It’s now time for the much-awaited steaming bowl of Hokkaido miso broth katsu chicken ramen. “The broth is what makes the ramen special, it is cooked for almost 10 hours. The noodles are imported from Japan,” adds the chef.

The rich creamy miso broth with soybeans, mushrooms, sake, mirin and dried fish powder tastes refreshingly mild. It’s the texture of the noodle that makes all the difference, it is smooth and slurpy. The noodle is topped with crispy sesame katsu chicken.

After a hearty meal, the chef comes out with Mochi.

“This is a guilt-free indulgence. The dessert won’t shoot up your calories. We curated this specifically keeping the concept of wellness in mind,” the chef explains.

I decided to wind up the session with the soft and chewy mochi. The item is coated in cocoa powder, and once cut in half, you can see the gooey centre of the banana, chocolate filling and lychee fruit.

When you take a bite, the bitter taste of cocoa powder dominates for a few seconds, and then the flavour of fruits comes rushing in — like a sweet melody.

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The New Indian Express