Sunday, May 15, 2011

Variety is the spice of life

A Pan-Asian food festival at the Thai Pavilion, Vivanta, Taj Malabar Cochin, provides dishes from countries like Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, China, Korea, and Vietnam

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo: Oriental Chef Cham Hun Chakhap

One day, Jayanta Das, Executive Assistant Manager -- Food and Beverages, at the Vivanta, Taj Malabar Cochin, wanted to come up with a different set of dishes for their Thai Pavilion restaurant. So he sat, with Oriental chef Cham Hun Chakhap, and executive chef Rasheed and they came up with the idea of providing cuisine from pan-Asian countries.

“At a single meal, a guest can have a soup from Malaysia, a main course from Thailand, and a Chinese dessert,” says Jayanta. You could also have food from Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Korea.

Says Sales Manager Venugopal: “Nowadays, our guests travel abroad a lot, so they eat different types of food. That is why we wanted to give them something different.”

To ensure that the best food is on display, Chef Cham made more than 70 dishes, before the final 30 was selected. Now, all this can be had at the Pan Asian food festival at the Thai Pavilion.

At the festival, you could start with a Lumpia roll from Indonesia. “It is a spring roll with fresh lettuce, vegetables, beans, flavoured with mint leaves and green chillies,” says Cham. It is a bit bland, but you can spice it up with a dash of chilly sauce.

Another appetizer is Kai Phad Pik Kappraw from Thailand. This is a spicy chicken with a mix of basil leaves. This is suitable for the Malayali palate, as it has a sharp tang to it. Thereafter, you can try a soup from Japan called the miso shiru. “This contains fermented beans with seaweed and dashi – a fish stock,” says Cham.

To provide authenticity, many of the ingredients have been imported from abroad. “Some of the mushrooms have been brought from Shanghai,” says Cham. “The water chestnut fruit has been got from Thailand, while for the miso shiru dish, the fermented beans have been brought from Japan.”

For the main course, you can start with Malacca fried rice from Malaysia. It is a spice flavoured dish accompanied by chilly sauce. And in case you feel you are missing out on your usual Chinese cuisine, try the Sui-ju prawns.

These are stir-fried prawns made with Sichuan peppercorn and celery sauce. This is juicy and superb and makes a wonderful impact on the taste buds. But it does not come cheap at Rs 900 a plate.

Thereafter, you can nip off to South Korea and have a Buldak, a chicken drumstick cooked in chilly sauce. Incidentally, ‘bul’ means ‘fire’ in Korean, while ‘dak’ means ‘chicken’, so it can be a fiery dish. Cham laughs, and says, “I have toned down the chilly part, so that patrons in Kochi can enjoy it.” This again is very suitable for Keralites because of its hot and spicy feel. Apparently, this dish is becoming popular among young South Koreans.

Following this, you can have the Char Kway Teow dish from Malaysia. This is stir-fried rice noodles, with scrambled eggs, chillies, and a soy sauce. The noodles are in the form of strips, about 1 centimetre in width, and has an okay taste. It is sold at roadside stalls in the Malaysian city of Penanag , and is popular in Singapore and Indonesia. The last item for the main course can be Kao Qie, a grilled and spicy Chinese eggplant.

By this time, your stomach is ready to burst, but you still have to find the space to dip into some mouth-watering desserts. Try the lemon grass flavoured Sago with mango pudding. “It is made of fresh mango pulp, coconut milk, and sago flavoured with lemon grass,” says Cham. Another superb dessert is banana fritters, dusted with cinnamon and eaten along with vanilla ice cream.

All in all, for visitors to the Thai Pavilion, they are in for an unusual, but in the end, a deeply satisfying culinary treat.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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