Cuisine Focus: Time for Thai

Five Thai chefs discuss the cuisine and its current popularity
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How popular would you say Thai cuisine is in the region?

Anan Tumya, Thai chef, The Backyard: Thai food is popular all over the world and particularly in the UAE as many of the flavours are recognisable to the different cultures that live here, and of course many people travel to Thailand for holidays. Most people know the most popular dishes like pad thai, green papaya salad, sticky mango rice… but we have a much larger and richer selection to draw on which is influenced by the different regions in Thailand. I still have much more to do to bring these tastes over, and I’m so excited for the next season as my team and I are working on some really cool stuff.

Jet Thaenphromrat, speciality Thai chef, Wise Kwai: There is an increase in demand for Thai cuisine in the region and people are becoming more open to exploring different food styles and big flavours. It’s great to see the diversity in the food sense in the region.

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Khamphun Plangthaisong, head chef, Spice Emporium: Thailand’s cuisine is very popular in the region. It’s such a diverse cuisine that incorporates many different flavours, spices, vegetables, seafood, noodles and meats, that there really is something that suits every taste — something that many other cuisines don’t bring to the table. Thailand is also such a popular tourist destination for people from the region, which I think has really helped increase the appeal here — people get a taste for not only the cuisine, but also the hospitality and the entertainment and just keep coming back for more.

Nguyen Thani, head chef, Thiptara: Indeed, Thai cuisine is one of the most popular in the region. Thiptara at Palace Downtown sees continued popularity from residents and visitors due to authentic Thai flavours that appeal to diverse nationalities. Traditional Thai food is quite healthy, as we make use of natural and fresh ingredients, paired with lots of spices, herbs, and vegetables. We find that this adds to its popularity amongst health-conscious diners.

Aphichat Amatmontri, head chef, Pai Thai: Thai cuisine is extremely popular across the region. With Thailand being a favourite holiday destination for residents across the Gulf, there’s a wide audience of expats and Arabs who have all tried different Thai dishes and often look for local venues to enjoy. Some of the mouth-watering favourites that are popular in the region include tom yum soup, Thai green and red curries, and the exotic sweet sticky rice and mango dessert, all of which are available at Pai Thai.

Are recipes fully authentic or tweaked to suit a local audience?

Tumya: Well, I’m 100% Thai which is already very authentic. We have some really talented Thai chefs in the kitchen, and we buy the same products we use back home. We just find that we need to be careful with the spice and adapt it to the audience, although Thai food is not all about chillies.

Thaenphromrat: Our preparation methods are truly authentic but Thai cuisine has distinct bold flavours which not everyone is used to so we do tweak the level of spiciness at times.

Plangthaisong: Thai cuisine is very diverse. With such a mix of ingredients, spices and flavours, there is something for everyone. We can tailor spice levels to suit personal tastes, and we do prepare with some local ingredients, however, we always ensure our preparation involves traditional ingredients and techniques to keep the bold Thai taste that absolutely everyone loves.

Thani: Thai food is known for its enthusiastic use of fresh herbs and spices. At Thiptara, a variety of exciting and complex flavours are created with high quality seasonal ingredients to cater to the palate of guests from different cultures and nationalities. Though real spicy flavours are native to Thai cuisine, in the Middle East, most guests prefer a mildly spiced version of the dishes. We innovate our menu by introducing new dishes and combinations but the quality and taste of our food is consistent and this helps us in serving discerning guests a true taste of authentic Thai cuisine.

Amatmontri: We pride ourselves on serving authentic Thai cuisine inspired by different areas of Thailand. Our entire culinary team hails from Thailand, and together has created recipes that reflect the originality of popular Thai dishes. That said, we do reduce the level of spice included in our dishes to better suit the local palate of residents here in Dubai.

Is it easy to source your ingredients?

Tumya: There are some great Thai suppliers in Dubai, and we can always reach out to one of our friends if we need that extra special something. I just wish we could have fresher ingredients like we have in the fresh produce markets in Thailand, but I’m happy to see more farm-to-table type suppliers starting to grow locally.

Thaenphromrat: The region just screams diversity, especially in the food sense, so it has become a lot easier to source our produce —but it all comes in at a price.

Plangthaisong: Yes, we order directly from Thailand by our trusted supplier, and we also source some ingredients from a local supplier.

Thani: Sourcing the right quality of ingredients is not always easy; however, we work with reliable Thai specialty suppliers who assist us in ensuring Thiptara remains as authentic and true as possible.

Amatmontri: During the last few years, the number of vendors in the region who sell Thai produce and key ingredients that are commonly used as part of the Thai cuisine has increased, however there is still a need for quality over quantity. We work closely to identify the freshest ingredients and seasonal specials to ensure that we are offering our guests a true taste of Thailand.

What are the biggest challenges you face?

Tumya: The language… many times people doesn’t understand me when I talk! I’m trying hard to improve as I like to chat with the guests about my food and create special dishes to suit their requests. A lot of the time guests remember a dish they had on holiday and it’s very special if I can make it for them.

Thaenphromrat: Educating people on the different regions of Thai cuisines, each region prepares and serve certain dishes differently: North Eastern region would serve a papaya salad with fermented fish caught in a river whereas the North region would make it with fermented crab caught in the rice fields.

Plangthaisong: My biggest challenge is discovering how to create new dishes with local ingredients while still keeping that authentic Thai taste.

Thani: The restaurant business is always competitive and what is important is to uphold the highest standards of quality and authenticity. I wouldn’t term it a challenge but we always have to be one step ahead, plan for emerging trends and yet deliver the flavours that we are renowned for. Ensuring consistency and creativity is a challenge — yet a delightful one, at that.

Amatmontri: While we source our ingredients from a range of different vendors, our main challenge is ensuring we receive our requested list of fresh produce on time, and regularly. As we have a high number of covers every evening, there’s a lot of planning involved to ensure sufficient stock is available to undertake the necessary preparation work each day. On the taste side of the cuisine, it is a challenge to ensure we find the right balance of spice in all our dishes — we do temper the level of spices in our dishes to ensure diners who are not accustomed to spice or Thai food do not find the food too spicy. The flipside to this is ensuring people who often travel to Thailand and are familiar with how spicy Thai food can get, are not disappointed by the reduced level of spice across our dishes — it’s about finding that balance while retaining the authenticity of the dishes.

What is the latest trend in Thai cuisine?

Tumya: Street food style ice cream has become very popular all over Thailand where you can find it with lots of trendy flavours!  I’d love to bring this kind of street food casual vibe to The Backyard.

Thaenphromrat: There’s a big craze in Thai street food trucks, more and more seem to be coming. A lot of old and traditional recipes from a very long time ago are finding their way into kitchen and we seeing a lot more of our ancestors' recipes on menus.

Plangthaisong: Street foods are currently right on trend in Thai cuisine. They’ve got such a transient nature and are really at the forefront of food innovation. Thailand is known for having the best street food in the world, one vendor was even awarded the highly coveted Michelin star!

Thani: A need for more health-conscious options can be observed in Thai cuisine. Guests are looking for gluten-free and vegetarian dishes that offers a delicate balance of spicy, sour, sweet and salty flavours. Desire for new global flavours has led to fusion style cooking.

Amatmontri: Preference for healthy dining options is not restricted to western cuisines — there has been a rise in demand for healthier Thai dishes as well in recent years. With a renewed focus on organic ingredients, it has been important for us to explore and create recipes that cater to this growing segment of diners — including those who prefer vegan options and gluten-free dishes — while taking into account different allergies that diners may suffer from.

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