Cuisine Focus 2015: Thai
Would you say Thai cuisine is popular in this region?
Nut Kunlert, executive chef, Lemongrass Thai Restaurant: What I find very interesting is that a significant number of our guests have either visited or lived in Thailand, and our offerings bring back memories for them.
Atita Tuparsa, speciality chef, Mekong, Anantara Dubai The Palm Resort & Spa: It is very popular. Thai cuisine features a unique combination of ingredients that create distinct flavours that are very appealing to local guests. Many people travel to Asia nowadays, which increases the awareness of Thai cuisine in the region.
Khamphun Plangthaisong, chef de cuisine, Spice Emporium, The Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi: Yes, Thai cuisine is very popular throughout the world, more so here because a lot of the population has visited Thailand because of its proximity. People here seem to be a little more adventurous when it comes to trying different types of cuisine so they are not scared by the spicy nature of the dishes.
Aphichat Amatmontri, head chef, Pai Thai, Al Qasr, Madinat Jumeirah: Thai being a cuisine with complex flavours, using all sort of spices, is somewhat very close to Arabic cuisine, where many spices are used in their hot dishes. Also, the weather in Dubai and Thailand are quite similar — hot and humid. I believe eating spicy food actually cools you down. The concept of plates being placed in the centre of the table to make meals a sharing experience is a notion that people in Dubai are very comfortable with as well, which further adds to the cuisine’s popularity.
Supattra Boonsrang, chef de cuisine, Thai Kitchen, Park Hyatt Dubai: It certainly is, amongst both locals and expats. Having opened 10 years ago, we have gone from having 6-7 competitors in the city to over 80 to date, which clearly symbolises the increase in popularity.
How authentic is the preparation of Thai cuisine?
Kunlert: The dishes are authentic in the sense that we use fresh Thai herbs flown from Thailand the day before, traditional Thai cooking techniques, as well as the fact that we strictly hire Thai wok chefs to prepare the dishes. We do understand the local requirements, such as the level of spice and adjust the taste accordingly from time to time.
Tuparsa: The underlying foundation of Thai cuisine is driven from early Chinese cooking techniques, and dates back as early as the 10th century. It establishes a relationship between five fundamental tastes: bitter, sweet, sour, salty and spicy. Striking the optimum balance between these five basic taste categories is the true art and technique behind the preparation of great Thai food, and an important focus for us. We also have a very traditional approach to food preparation — we source authentic ingredients and have a team of Thai chefs, which ensures that the dishes are as true to its core as possible.
Plangthaisong: All of the recipes are authentic; we have spent the last two years sourcing the desired ingredients through various suppliers directly from Thailand to ensure our guests have the same experience they would in the best restaurants in Bangkok.
Amatmontri: Some of our products come directly from Thailand, but we do make adjustments. We try to incorporate some locally sourced vegetables to support local farmers and businesses. We only have Thai chefs, who create authentic flavours. The presentation may be slightly different than what you would get in Thailand.
What is the supply stream like?
Kunlert: As we have franchised the brand, we have sourced and branded the sauces from Thailand to ensure that they get the same taste in every outlet. With regards to Thai herbs, we do have few Thai suppliers whom we import from at least three times a week.
Tuparsa: We have bi-weekly deliveries of some authentic Thai ingredients, like herbs, spices, Thai coconut curry pastes. We also grow our own herbs, like lemongrass, mint and basil, in the herb garden just beside the restaurant.
Plangthaisong: Some of the basic ingredients are sourced from the local market (like onions, garlic, chicken, fish et cetera) but all speciailty Thai products are delivered from Thailand, thrice a week.
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Amatmontri: We work closely with our suppliers and get private imports of local Thai products three times a week.
Boonsrang: 90% of our ingredients are imported from Thailand. During the cooler winter months, we grow our own Thai herbs, like chillies and coriander, in the herb garden located within the grounds of the Park Hyatt Dubai.
Sanya Waengdongbang, chef de cuisine, The Royal Budha, Holiday Inn Dubai Al Barsha: We don’t import ourselves, but source locally from suppliers who have imported ingredients from Thailand. We support purchasing vegetables grown here in Dubai or the region as we want to encourage local farmers and businesses.
Your biggest challenges?
Kunlert: Changing the menu and tweaking some dishes to make it taste more genuine. The team was a bit hesitant, especially when regulars started asking for old dishes. In addition, ensuring consistency in all outlets can be difficult sometimes.
Amatmontri: Spice levels are very subjective, especially in Thai cuisine. We offer four different levels of spiciness: mild, medium, spicy and very spicy. We have guests coming from all over the world, with varying tolerance levels; our staff tries to understand and match the required spice levels, but sometimes it turns out to be slightly under or over spicy.
Boonsrang: In the past, not only were our chefs native but the service staff were too. Nowadays it is a lot more difficult to have a full team of authentic Thai service staff.
Waengdongbang: The ingredients — they have a short shelf life and lose their flavours over time.
Latest trend in Thai cuisine?
Kunlert: Authentic Thai food with modern presentation.
Tuparsa: Thai cuisine is evolving, and many restaurants are now using non-Thai ingredients to add depth and complexity of flavours. Also, some chefs are opting for minimalistic plate design to modernise and elevate Thai cuisine. However, our focus is to remain respectful of Thai cuisine’s essential culinary traditions and adhere to its principles for authenticity and integrity.
Plangthaisong: As a lot of people in the region have visited Thailand and understand the Thai concept of sharing menus, this is the direction we have chosen to go in.
Amatmontri: Fresh rolls — almost like spring rolls but they are not fried. We recently introduced them on our menu for summer — it’s rice paper filled with fresh vegetables, topped with peanuts and homemade Thai tamarind sauce.
Boonsrang: Zesty, tangy, healthy and lighter dishes rather than fried or heavy dishes.
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Geang Kiew Wan Gai
Most commonly found in the south, Geang Kiew Wan Gai or Thai green curry is spicy and coconut cream base, and Mekong speciality chef Atita Tuparsa shares her secret recipe for it.
10g green curry paste
10g green pepper
5g coriander root
10g lemon grass
5g bird’s eye chilli
1 kaffir lime zest
5g shrimp paste
2g salt & white pepper
1 kaffir lime leaves
5g coriander powder
4g cumin powder
1.5ltr coconut milk
50ml Thai fish sauce
40g palm sugar
180g chicken breast
30g round eggplants
1 spring of sweet basil
1 red chilli (large)
In a mortar, make a fresh curry paste with green pepper, coriander root, galangal, lemongrass, shallot, small Thai garlic, bird’s eye chili, kaffir lime zest, shrimp paste, white pepper and salt.
Over medium flame, heat the oil and add green curry paste, kaffir lime leaves and all the spices. Stir for two minutes.
Add fresh curry paste and slowly add the coconut milk while stirring; continue stirring for at least five minutes.
Season with the fish sauce and palm sugar.
Add the sliced chicken and eggplants, and let it cook for three minutes. Stir continuously.
To control the texture of the curry sauces, continuously and gradually add chicken stock while cooking.
When the chicken is fully cooked, add chillies and sweet basil, and then transfer to a serving bowl or curry pot.
Garnish with coconut cream, basil leaves and sliced red chilli.