Chef Somruethai Suksamai, who is better known as Chef Ninja due to her phenomenal speed in the kitchen, left her mark in the city during her year long stint at InAzia by Sheraton. She is currently a part of the team at JW Marriott Kolkata but is back in Hyderabad for a limited time Thai food festival at Okra. The festival, titled ‘Where Thai Cuisine Blooms’, will see Okra augmenting its standard buffet with an additional section devoted to Chef Ninja’s handiwork. Every day there will be over a dozen Thai dishes on offer including soups, appetisers and main courses. As is typical, the dishes will change every day; if you’ve any favourites that you wish to try, you should call up and check with the hotel.
I was invited to a blogger’s table featuring a six-course set menu curated by Chef Ninja. Tod Man Pha, a spicy deep-fried fish cake, was the first dish to arrive. I was told that the Tod Man is a very popular street food in Thailand. However, this dish is not a common sight at Pan Asian or Thai restaurants in the city, which is somewhat surprising as the red curry paste spiced Tod Man should appeal to the typical Hyderabadi palate. The fiery Thai red chilli also made its presence felt in the next course. I had opted for the non-vegetarian set menu and was served Laab Gai – a minced chicken salad with shallot and mint. The salad was dominated by the tender, beautifully marinated chicken, but had plenty of other elements that kept things interesting. The fiery chillies and shallots complemented the citrus dressing, while crunchy bits of roasted dry rice added a nice textural variation. Chef Ninja also makes a mean Som Tum Salad, which was available in the vegetarian selection. I requested a small portion of the Som Tum and wasn’t disappointed. The brilliance of this traditional raw papaya and peanut salad lies entirely in the balance of the flavours – tangy with a little bit of sweetness and surprising bursts of heat. Chef Ninja was spot on with her execution. The fiesty appetisers and salads were followed by the Laab Gai – a comforting clear soup with minced chicken that doubled up as a palate cleaner.
A Thai main course is never complete without one of its signature curries. We were offered Kaeng Karee – Yellow Curry with potato, mushroom, and pumpkin, and steamed Jasmine Rice (Khao Hom Ma Li). What I love about Chef Ninja’s preparations is the restraint. The Yellow Curry was light, aromatic, with just the right proportion of spiciness and sweetness, unlike many other renditions where curry is often overpowered by the flavour of coconut milk and lemongrass. The rice was followed by a bowl of Phad Thai- wok fried Thai flat noodles with Tofu and vegetables. Once again, the sauce was delicious, yet not too intense.
Marriott is taking a contemporary approach to Thai dessert. Instead of sticking to typical Thai desserts like Tub Tim Krob or Khao Niao Mamuang, Marriott is taking inspiration from traditional Thai ingredients and using them in European desserts. Chef Ratheesh Unni Nair always amazes with his deeply conceptual dishes that are beautiful amalgamations of a multitude of different ingredients. The pre-dessert course featured a lemongrass mousseline drizzled with lemongrass extract, a lemongrass parfait with chocolate soil, and Pandan sponge. The dessert was a Tender Coconut Mousse that utilised both tender coconut water and flesh, Rice and Sago Pudding with Jasmine Tea, Mango drops, and Raspberry sauce. Both the dishes were fabulous. Gorgeous, intriguing, and delicious. Unfortunately, they’re both too intricate for the buffet format of the festival. The regular buffet will feature the elements of these desserts such as mousse and pudding in a more traditional presentation.
The Thai Food Festival will continue at Okra until 30th April. It’s available only for dinners and is priced at Rs. 1350 (plus taxes).