Thai Food Festival, JW Marriott Sahar

It was way back in 2006 that I remember falling in love with Thai cuisine. It was relatively new to the city, at a time when Thai food meant having Thai Green or Red Curry Rice, Pad Thai Noodles, Som Tam or Thai Pot Rice (which wasn’t really authentic but boy it tasted good). I’ve always enjoyed watching Ian Wright, Bobby Chinn and Janet Hsieh have a blast travelling around the world, and I have learnt so much through their food expeditions. Merrilees Parker hosted an episode of Planet Food that piqued my interest of Thai food. I still remember her walking through the streets of Bangkok, tasting various street food, hopping on to a boat at the Floating Market on the Chao Phya river to try piping hot flat rice noodles. I promised myself that day that I would definitely travel to Thailand to try all those dishes, particularly a crispy pancake like dessert that had a coconut filling. Little did I know that I’d get closer to the amazing food experience that I had hoped and wished for when we went to the Thai Food Festival hosted by JW Marriott Sahar Mumbai.

We’ve been to JW Café a bunch of times, but being fans of Thai food, this time was extra special. 🙂 Chef Rungtiwa Sorlae, with Executive Chef Vishal Atreya, and a few food enthusiasts were just back from a short trip to Thailand. It was to showcase food that was close to Chef Rungtiwa’s heart. They sampled various dishes and even had an elaborate meal at her home.

Once they got back, Chef Rungtiwa had to bring back true flavours of Thailand with her, to showcase the hidden gems of the Thai Cuisine. In collaboration with the Royal Thai Consulate General – Mumbai, birthed a flavourpacked extravaganza that started on the 14th of October, and went on till the 29th of November.

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The invite that was sent to us was really special. It had Khanom Dok Jok, a traditional Thai dessert shaped like a Lotus, and an invite for the event with a booklet that gave us an insight to Chef Rungtiwa’s life and passion for Thailand and Thai cuisine. It also had snapshots of the trip and had two recipes that are close to chef’s heart; Kang Phed Sab-Pa-Rod Goong (Pineapple Curry Prawns) and Phad Thaw Ngxk Tao Hu (Home-Style Stir Fried Bean Sprouts with Tofu.)

We knew that this was going to be memorable experience.

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When we walked into JW Café, our eyes went straight to the Thai Snake Boat that was filled with flowers. There were around 5-6 counters that high various types of Thai food.

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The first one was a live counter by the Royal Thai Consulate General – Mumbai. We had the pleasure of meeting Consul – General Mr. Ekapol Poolpipat who was there with his team and chefs showcasing two dishes – Sticky Rice with Egg Custard and Steamed Rice with Toasted Coconut in Banana Leaves. The counter looked so colorful. We had no idea that Thailand had such a vast variety of rice. In this counter there was a plate with three variations of sticky rice. One was cooked with only coconut milk, the second one was made with Pandanus leaves that rendered a hint of green color to the rice and the third one caught everyone’s eye as it was blue. 🙂 The chefs and Mr. Poolpipat explained that a flower called Butterfly Pea is used to add the bright blue color. It doesn’t flavour, just adds vibrancy to any dish that it’s used in. We tried both the dishes and also saw how it’s made. The Egg Custard isn’t the usual custard that you’d expect, but it has a light green tinge and it’s thin in shape. It was served on top of the sticky rice with toasted Coconut that was also made in-house. We loved the savoury version too. There was one that had sticky rice served with Egg Floss and another that was mixed with a dried shrimp mixture that tasted delicious. The texture that the Egg floss gave to the dish was something made it all the more enjoyable. 🙂

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The next counter was one of our favourites – Som Tam Salad. There was a chef who would make you a fresh portion of the now world famous Thai Raw Papaya Salad at your request. The counter looked really pretty with herbs and vegetables and a huge wooden mortar and pestle. There were sauces and bird eye chilies laid out so that the spice levels and the taste could be adjusted to the guests liking.

Both these counters were used when Chef Rungtiwa held a workshop to show how the dishes were made. She pointed out that Thai cuisine is a complex interplay of 4 to 5 fundamental taste senses; sweet, salty, sour, bitter and spicy. Creating a balance of all these tastes is very important in making Thai food. While making Som Tam she added chilies for the spiciness, tamarind for sourness, salt for saltiness (fish sauce can also be used) and a lil bit of palm sugar for sweetness in the dish. She then mixed and pounded all the ingredients in the wooden mortar and pestle. It was fun to learn about a dish that I like so much, and see how it’s originally made.

The Royal Thai Consulate General – Mumbai had standees showcasing the different kinds of rice that are available in Thailand. Thai cuisine is not just about Jasmine rice and Sticky rice. Chef Rungtiwa mentioned that some of these varieties of rice are only available in certain shops in the city, one just has to look for it, and know what to buy. Following is some info on a few rice varieties that were featured by The Royal Thai Consulate General that evening.

Khao Wong Rice of Kalasin – It is registered as a geographical indication or Gi Rice. This glutinous rice is planted only during the wet season in the paddy fields with silicon and calcium rich soil in Kalasin province in Northeast Thailand. The husk is brown; the grain is sticky and soft. It is fragrant when cooked, remains soft for a long time and does not stick to the finders.

Cooking method – Rice : Water = 1:1.5 – 2 (with the electric rice cooker)

Pa-yah Leum Gaeng Rice – This glutinous rice is planted in Nam Nao district, Phetchabun province, Northern region as well as in some other provinces in the Northeastern region of Thailand such as Loei and Chaiyaphum. Special characteristics include soft texture and strong aroma when cooked. It also contains high protein content (8.16g)

Cooking method – Rice : Water = 1:1.5 – 2 (with the electric rice cooker)

Hom Mali Rice (Thai Jasmine Rice) – This aromatic rice grows mostly in the Northeastern region of Thailand and is reputed around the globe for it’s premium quality rice grains, health benefits and it’s distinctive jasmine aroma that is released during the cooking process. When cooked it is soft and fluffy with a taste that enhances traditional spices of orient cuisine. It is also a good source of protein, carbohydrates, niacin, thiamine, iron, selenium, vitamin B1 and D. It is also our favourite kind of rice. 🙂

Cooking method – Rice : Water = 1:1 – 1.5 (with the electric rice cooker)

Khao Leumpua – This dark purple glutinous upland rice belongs to the Mong hilltribe. The origin prior to the time of seed purification was the mountainous area 450 meter above sea level. The variety is normally grown in the wet season under upland condition. The variety is normally grown in the wet season under upland condition. Khao Leumpua contains high concentration of antioxidants substances such as anthocyanin and gamma oryzanol. Moreover, it contains high amount of nutrients and unsaturated fatty acids sucha as Omega 3, Omega 6, Omega 9, Vitamin B, Vitamin B2, iron, calcium and manganese.

Cooking method – Rice : Water = 1:1 (with the electric rice cooker)

Sangyod Rice – This variety of rice is originally grown only in Phatthalung province, in the Southern region of Thailand. Sangyod rice has beautiful natural dark red and violet colors. The grains are soft and aromatic when cooked. Sangyod Rice provides more nutrition benefits than other types of rice. It contains more fibre, Vitamin E, protein, iron and phosphorous. It also contains antioxidants such as oryzanol and gamma aminbutyric acid.

Cooking method – Rice : Water = 1:1.5 – 2 (with the electric rice cooker)

We would really love to travel to Thailand just to see how these rice are cultivated and also try the dishes that are made/paired with them.

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The next station had Satay. Though originally from Indonesia, Satay is very popular in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and other neighbouring countries. This station had a variety of satays that were grilled as per each guests preference. They had Chicken, Fish, Prawns, Tofu and Pineapple. The raw ingredients were already marinated on skewers and were ready to be grilled. They came with a bunch of dipping sauces. Our favourite remains the sweet and spicy Thai Chilli sauce. The satays were perfectly cooked and the Pineapple one was refreshing. We loved it. 🙂

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If you followed Mark Wiens from Migrationology or EatingThaiFood.com you’ll know that there are way more dishes eaten as main course in Thailand than the usual Green, Red or Yellow Thai curry. Chef Rungtiwa accomplished just that by introducing a variety of main dishes during this festival.

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Phad Phak Rume or Ruam, a vegetarian stir fried Thai dish had kale, mushrooms, cauliflower, baby corn and carrots. Mixed with spicy red chillies, lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves, this dish was flavourful and went really well with steamed jasmine rice. They even had a duck version of this dish that was really popular during the festival.

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We also really liked the Tofu Phad Prik Thai Dum that had cubes of Tofu that had been deep fried and tossed with garlic, shallots and green onions. What we loved about the Tofu was that it acted like a sponge and soaked up all the flavours of a sauce and ended up becoming these juicy pillows of Thai goodness. Delicious!

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There was a southern Thai chicken dish that had loads of spices and had bunches of Phrik Thai or Thai Green Peppercorn. These render a lovely mild peppery hint and can be eaten whole without having to worry about setting your mouth on fire. Being from the South of India (Kerala), I have enjoyed green pepper pickle and have had tasted it in curries that my grandmother used to make from the peppercorn that were plucked from our spice garden in Kerala. Brought back a lot of fond memories and we truly relished it with rice.

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Thai people know how to cook seafood and what Chef Rungtiwa and her team did with the next dish was absolutely brilliant. This stir-fried dish had prawns and mussels cooked with garlic, Thai red chillies and Kaffir Lime leaves, another dish that left us going for seconds. 🙂 Even though stir-fried, none of the dishes are oily. They are cooked and stir fried in their own juices making it super delicious and healthy. It’s safe to say that this was one of the favourites of almost everyone at the restaurant as we saw a lot people lining up for this dish! Prawns. Mussels, that yummy curry, what’s not to like!?! 🙂

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They also had pots of Green and Red Thai curry along with bowls of ingredients that could be added according individual preference. It was a live station where the chef would cook you the curry of your choice with your favourite ingredients.

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And now, the dessert counter! My eyes lit up seeing the Royal Thai style crispy pancake dessert Khanom Bueang. It was same dessert that Merriliees Parker had during her trip to Thailand. It was like a dream come true moment for me. 😀 Loved how beautifully and carefully the chef at the dessert station made each pancake. At first, a dollop of meringue is rhythmically spread on the pancake that is being cooked to a perfectly crispy texture. Then a filling is added, followed by toasted sesame seeds. There were three fillings – golden egg thread, salted coconut and sweet coconut.  It is then folded into the signature shape that looked like a dimpled taco. Loved it! Even the Roti Tord that we tried was interesting. It was roti that looked very much like the Indian Laccha Paratha or the Malabari Parotta that was deep-fried till it was golden brown in color. It was served with Pandanus cream and condensed milk. We also loved the coconut ice cream that was served in a young coconut shell with ribbons of tender coconut flesh, with rice vermicelli, jackfruit and water chestnut.

This meal brought us closer to Thailand with an experience that was so close to Chef Rungtiwa’s heart. Her passion for Thai cuisine is reflected in every dish that was meticulously served at JW Café. Even the chef at the Khanom Bueang counter was made to slow down her pace while making the pancakes and Chef Rungtiwa insisted she followed a specific rhythm to make sure they tasted exactly like the ones made back home. She brought with her, family recipes and made every guest at the restaurant experience the true flavours of Thailand. The I really think the Royal Thai Consulate General team did a brilliant job showcasing their culture and ingredients, and that is sure to entice everyone who dined at the Thai Food Festival to put Thailand high up on their list of places to visit. 🙂 JW Café and Chef Rungtiwa lured us with a droplet from the ocean of flavours that Thailand has to offer, and we can’t wait to head there for more.

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