Enjoy Regional Specialties of Thai Cuisine at Siam Trading Company

My introduction to Thai food was as a teenager, and over the years, it has grown to become one of my most favored cuisines, helped in no small part by having a Thai roommate and best friend for four years of college, during which we ate at Thai restaurants and I also got to enjoy home cooking and goodies from Thailand, which she brought back every fall. During my time on the west coast, I had about half a dozen Thai restaurants within a few miles of my place, and would pick which of them to eat at, depending on whether I was in the mood for Larb, Pad Thai, a Thai curry, or a Thai basil stir fry. Fast forward a decade, and I found myself back in the homeland, and made my first of many trips to Bangkok to visit the friend and her family, and got introduced to even more of the cuisine!

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Bangalore has some restaurants that serve good Thai food, many of which have Thai dishes amongst a Pan-Asian selection. But a place dedicated to Thai food, with an owner-Chef at the helm who has traveled extensively across Thailand, and brought back memories, recipes, and techniques – well, that’s definitely a treat, as a recent meal at Siam Trading Company proved! Chef Thashvin Muckatira (Holy Cow Hospitality) has his finger in many pies, but Siam is, I would say, the cherry on top. A curated meal (by Ruth of Bangalore’s Restaurants) that led a select group of bloggers and foodies through specialties from Thailand, is one that we will continue to savor and talk about for some time. This was a meal for non-vegetarians, though the restaurant has enough to keep veg diners happy too.

We began the proceedings with Grey Goose cocktails, and I found the Grey Goose Le Fizz to be my favorite, and that was my accompaniment for the meal. A Som Tum salad live counter had us grabbing plates of the tangy green papaya salad with shrimp as we waited to sit down to lunch. The first course was Beef and Rambutan Soup, and Chilled Mushroom & Young Coconut Soup, both of which were flavorful and fragrant delights. Carambola & Prawn Salad, featuring starfruit and grilled prawn in a spicy and sour dressing was next, and I doubt you’ll see this on any other menu in town. Then came Basil Prawns served with peanut sauce and Pandan wrapped Chicken, with banana leaf substituting for the difficult to source Pandan. Didn’t in any way harm the flavor, and both dishes were polished off in no time.

Things were beginning to get more exciting, with Steamed Lotus Stem garnished with whole cloves of garlic and Chinese wine, as well as a fabulous Sour Beef which had been fermented in-house, making an appearance. Spicy, sour, and again with garlic cloves, this one was hard to stop eating! Homemade pork sausage was something I was looking forward to, having eaten this Northeastern Thai prep (known as Naem) for breakfast and in fried rice and even carting back a couple pounds of it on one of my trips…this version, while nice, especially given its rarity, did not have the tang and spice blast I was expecting. But the fact that Chef is curing and prepping it right in the kitchen is quite something!

Crispy Fish with Mango Salad was next, and the delicate raw mango and talapia flavors were balanced so well. The next dish had the distinction of shutting us all up, and also had us asking for seconds: Grilled Pork Neck with a spicy lime dressing. Already quite full, we still made space for the Dry Noodles with Pork and Prawns (I loved this dish and the pork fat infused flavors with the shiitake mushrooms and greens adding dimension) and the Chiang Mai Chicken Curry and Sticky Rice (also known as Burmese curry, this one was heavy on the spices and a perfect main course). The meal ended with two popular Thai desserts – Sticky Rice with Mango and Rubies (Tum Tim Krob in Thai) which is water chestnuts in sweetened coconut milk. Unfortunately, neither of the desserts lived up to past experience or the expectation based on the rest of the meal. But desserts aside, this was a spectacular meal of epic proportions and made me yearn for another trip to Thailand!

Staycationing at Howard Johnson

I love hotel rooms! The bouncy bed, the fluffy pillows, the feeling of being on holiday (even when I go away on work), and the change of scene, and some much needed pampering  – these are all the reasons I love settling into a hotel room, even if it’s just for one night. Well, living as we do, with Bangalore’s ever-burgeoning traffic, sometimes a staycation means going to a part of the city you generally don’t get to, and enjoying the hospitality and new surroundings of a nice hotel. This is exactly how I spent my last weekend, staycationing at the Howard Johnson, a four star establishment in Hebbal. Located on a busy street, right next door to a mall, from the outside the glass facade does not give you an inkling even, into the lovely interiors and decor that the hotel boasts of. A lot of thought and attention to detail has gone into the creation of the interiors, and I found something to admire and click a pic of, at nearly every spot.

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We checked in on Saturday noon, and were shown to our rooms, which were of the Executive Club category (INR 7500 plus taxes per night), one level below the seven suites the hotel has. A large, well appointed, pool-facing room was mine, with the usual accoutrements of desk and chair, armchair (with footstool, a nice touch!), a big bed that was the perfect amount of soft, and had pillows too, that were just right (nothing worse than the rock hard or sinkingly soft variety!). The bathroom made me super happy – from the rainshower to the magnifying mirror that made makeup application oh-so-easy, to the good amount of space on the sink counter to spread my stuff out, and of course the toiletries provided, from shampoo and conditioner (something that many a hotel omits), and shaving/vanity/dental kits. Pristine, fluffy white towels and a robe completed the picture.

 

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A highlight of our 27-hour stay was a visit to the onsite spa, one of the Sohum Spa chain. Small, but perfectly maintained, and with massage and facial services, this is one pampering you really should go for! I am not a massage person, so I opted for an Express Facial, though two of my fellow guests got massages and the combination of bliss and lethargy on their faces and in their demeanor, said it all! My facial too was just fantastic – the young woman had serious magic in her fingertips. The soothing music and peace and quiet in the small space all added to my feelings of contentment. Equipped with a shower stall right there as well, even non-hotel guests can avail of the spa facilities in comfort. Located on the same floor as the pool, there is also a well equipped gym next door.

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At present, the hotel has one multi-cuisine restaurant, called Nest. It serves Indian, Asian (mainly Chinese with a Thai curry or some sushi at times), Italian and Western fare. Chef Dev Bose, who has been a part of the team since the hotel opened nearly three years ago, says that Italian and Mediterranean cuisine is his forte (I chose to cook what I love to eat, he told us), but of course justice is done to all the cuisines served. Nest offers not only a daily lunch and dinner buffet, but also an a la carte menu, and Chef Bose and his team are always willing to customize and create something to a guest’s particular fancy, given a little advance notice. Considering this is a business hotel with lots of long-stay clientele, this is a lovely gesture indeed, for those who might not want to be faced with a buffet at every meal, are fussy eaters, or who develop a hankering for a simple meal from home. There is also a bar space, which too had  an eye-catching decor and seemed to be well stocked. LIITs are apparently a specialty, but we stuck to the safer and much less potent Mojitos for our Sunday brunch.

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Saturday night was the launch of Nest’s new menu – an annual affair, where Chef Bose and his team add some new items to their menu based on guest feedback as well as Chef’s inspiration. This year, he chose to use figs as his muse, and many of the new dishes had that element present, from a fig salad, to a fig cheesecake. That night, what stood out for us was the main course: chicken roulade, salmon infused with chilli/paprika, and a delicious mushroom risotto. After a mini dinner of the new items on the newly launched menu, there was also a buffet spread, where we loved the live counter of appams, which were a great accompaniment to the freshly made kheema, boti and bheja fry. I am not a big spare parts fan, but the treatment here was super.

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In fact, having partaken of both the Saturday lunch buffet, as well as the Sunday brunch buffet, I came away with the feeling that the Indian food was what shone. Whether it was a paneer gravy, or the Kuthu Paratha or Kheema Pav (these last two were the live counters at Sunday brunch, along with an appam station and pasta station), it was all done well and tasted good. The Chinese and pasta/roast chicken/au gratin dishes were decent, but not outstanding. The buffet, whether for lunch, dinner or Sunday brunch, is set up with a counter for desserts, one for breads, salads/cold cuts/appetizers, and hot dishes comprising Indian, Asian and Continental fare. Sunday brunch has hot appetizers brought to the table, along with some live stations, but otherwise it is a similar spread to the weekdays.

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When you visit, definitely make it a point to stop by the third floor, where there is a Knowledge Center/library area which has a treasure trove of knickknacks and items like a beautiful, unique, hand-carved chess set and an old-style station clock. Oh, and don’t miss the gramophone! Nest too, has some really cool design elements (note the mounted plates at the restaurant’s entrance, which feature numerous trees – places where birds “nest”), faux marble finish columns that also become lights in the evening, and a private dining space with a beautiful chandelier. In the lobby area there are light fixtures that draw the eye, and the honeycomb patterned partitions are worthy of a second look too. As a business hotel, HoJo finds itself quite full on weekdays, with Saturdays seeing a bit of a lull. The pool is of a decent size, the rooms as I have already waxed eloquent on, are very comfortable, and the staff are attentive and smiling. Complimentary WiFi and free pickup/drop to and from the airport are part of the tariff.

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Details: Howard Johnson Bengaluru Hebbal; INR 1500 plus taxes for a meal for two; INR 999 plus taxes/INR 1500 plus taxes (with alcohol), per person for Sunday Brunch.

A Taste of Thai

Thai food is right at the top of my list of favorite cuisines. Having a roommate from Thailand in college, who, after four years of co-habitation is still one of my closest friends, means that (a) I’ve eaten some incredible Thai food and (b) I get to visit her/her family in Thailand and do more of (a). Thus, when OKO, The Lalit Ashok’s pan-Asian restaurant, hosts a Thai food festival, and the Chef in charge is their in-house Chef from Thailand, Chef Suriya Phusirimongkhonchai, you know I couldn’t resist! And now that the Bangalore climate seems to have come to its senses and we have cool, breezy and gorgeous evenings, OKO’s outdoor dining area is the perfect spot to dine. So, if you’re looking for some excellent Thai food and a fine dine (it’s on the pricey side) dinner this weekend, you should go to OKO, since the Think Thai Festival ends on Sunday, June 5th.

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