BANGKOK, Thailand – When it comes to Bangkok Thai Cuisine, David Thompson, Australian expat, is recognized as the best Chef in Asia right now by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, the list of best places published by San Pellegrino each year. His restaurant is called Nahm and he lives and works in Bangkok. Jarrett Wrisley is an American expat who owns a pair of eateries in Bangkok: an Italian place called Appia and a Thai-influenced restaurant called Soul Food Mahanakorn.
What is Bangkok Thai Cuisine?
In the head of many non-travelers, Bangkok is a place where there are transsexual prostitutes, cocaine, Buddhist monks, quarrelling mafia groups and where Mike Tyson sings.
The reputation of this city was badly affected by the movie Hangover II. And although it is possible to find most of these things – except maybe Mike Tyson – the capital of Thailand has much more to offer.
One example is gastronomy and Bangkok Thai Cuisine.
Bangkok Thai Cuisine: Street Food
Bangkok is a destination in itself only for its street food – these little stalls that stand on sidewalks and offer simple foods, often prepared in advance at home, for consistently lower prices than any official restaurant in the city. And very often these places offer food that’s incomparable to anything that is done in the West. Roasted ducks, crispy pork belly, tripe soup, sweet sausage dishes, spicy and tasty Thai curries…
Bangkok Thai cuisine is also, like anywhere else in the world, a combination of contemporary dishes (street food) and the food that has been cooked by mothers and grandmothers, the recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation. This is the food that can be found in higher-echelon restaurants.
And Chef David Thompson is the authority on the subject.
Bangkok Thai Cuisine: Chef David Thompson
Australian; cooking Thai food for 25 years; at the time of the interview he had just closed the first Thai restaurant to receive a Michelin star, Nahm London; his cookbook, Thai Food, was voted one of the greatest cookbooks of all time; and his new restaurant, Nahm at the Metropolitan Bangkok, has been named the best restaurant in Asia.
According to him, his work is “very traditional, but I’ve had problems in the past when I’ve claimed that. I do not have the flexibility of a Thai national, so I have to rely on recipes.”
Street food, according to Chef Thompson, “is almost a hybrid with Chinese food, since many dishes are based on noodles. Instead, Thai ‘grandmother food’ is meant to be shared.” So the restaurant, although inspired by what can be found all over Thailand, is mainly inspired by culinary history. “In addition, we have 25 chefs and excellent ingredients. That changes everything.”
It is for these reasons – research, expertise, available resources and the ingredients – that his restaurant stands out. “We have chicken raised for us in Chiang Mai. We have herbs growing on the roof of the restaurant. We ferment fish ourselves.”
Why did it take so long – and that we had to wait for a Westerner to do it – before a high-end traditional Thai restaurant appeared on the top lists of restaurants in the world? Chef Thompson believes it’s about knowing the right people. “I find myself on these lists because I know half the people responsible for writing them. I trust that they will do their job and find out that Thais can cook, too”, he says.
Bangkok Thai Cuisine: Food Writer Turned Restaurateur, Jarrett Wrisley
And this passion for the culinary arts of South-East Asia is just beginning. For example, Jarrett Wrisley, American author and food writer by profession, is the “Director” of Soul Food Mahanakorn, a restaurant opened in 2010 and offers a menu of serious mixology – all cocktails are all doubles and well executed – and food “inspired by Thailand,” according to him. In order to avoid unnecessary controversy, probably.
But beware, unlike Nahm, Soul Food Mahanakorn is not a restaurant that claims to offer a five-star environment. Rather, the recipes are inspired by M. Wrisley’s favourite dishes. A question that comes to mind, then, is: why offer in a restaurant what can be found on the street? Does food served on the street, in Styrofoam plates, on a plastic stool in lieu of a table, taste the same served inside? “Yes, says M. Wrisley, but one sits more comfortably.”
And why do Westerners insist to cook Thai food? “I think it is culture problem. For example, the United States, a restaurant would have big problems if the authorities were aware that fish ferments in the walk-in. I know that importing culinary products from Thailand to England, for example, can be a nightmare. In fact, the street food of Bangkok is as clean and as safe as the one served in restaurants in New York. But in Thailand, we have a certain freedom that we lost in the West.”
Bangkok is now becoming a major city of the world, just like Moscow, London or Hong Kong. And it’s an unavoidable destination for Bangkok Thai Cuisine.
Nahm Restaurant: 27 South Sathorn Rd, Bangkok
Soul Food Mahanakorn: 56/10 Sukhumvit Soi 55, Bangkok