Thai cuisine returns to Kathmandu
In another sign that things might be returning to normal after the long pandemic closure, Kathmandu is hosting a Thai food festival.
Before the pandemic, Bangkok was among the most popular tourism destinations for Nepalis holidaying abroad. It was Thai International that started the first regular jet service to Kathmandu, and many Burmese of Nepali descent live and work in Thailand.
Although Thai International has not resumed its Kathmandu-Bangkok flights after the pandemic, Nepal Airlines has. And there is talk of the Thai Smile budget airline starting flights to Kathmandu and Bhairawa.
In a another sign of revival, Soaltee Hotel has invited Chef Pairaj Polgeng to Nepal to lead a 16-day food festival at the Bao Xuan restaurant, and he brings back the authentic taste of Thailand to Nepal.
“Thai food is aromatic, spicy and tasty,” explains Polgeng. “In one bite you can taste everything – the galangal, lemongrass, coconut, chilies, and it is a burst of taste.”
Polgeng has also brought with him the genuine ingredients including Kaffir lime, Thai chilies, galangal and pandan leaves some of which he uses to make several dishes including the highlight of the demonstration night, Gaeng Keow Wan Kai which is green Thai chicken curry.
The curry presented on a ceramic bowl is shiny green, steaming, creamy accompanied with aroma, taste and fragrance of spices and coconut milk. The meat is coarsely chopped and strewn in a sauce that mixes hot and sweet flavors. Neither taste is overlapping, every bite is a burst of flavour: the lime, the aftertaste of palm sugar, and enough chili to gulp down more water. Yet leaving everyone wanting for more.
The fact that many of the ingredients cannot be found in Nepal and that the real stuff is used, as well as the addition of Nepali touches to the presentation also give the dishes a unique selling point.
Chef Polgeng who has over three decades of experience working with reputed international hotels in Muscat and Dubai was in his element preparing and sharing over 35 full-flavoured dishes bringing Kathmandu closer to the expansive gastronomic culture of Thailand.
The Thai Food Festival has returned to Soaltee after a two year long hiatus following the pandemic during which the organisers found that more people were eager to try this Southeast Asian cuisine than ever before.
“We realised many people wanted to try Thai food but we are not bringing just any Thai food but authentic dishes prepared by a Thai chef,” says Pratiksha Basnet at Soaltee.
Some of the dishes participants got to try include the Tom Yum Goong, Som Tum which is the famed raw papaya salad, Prawn Cake, Chicken Pandan Leaf, Pad Thai and everyone’s favourite dessert mango sticky rice and banana coconut milk, to name a few.
The all-time favourite Tom Yum Goong is another popular show stealer, made from scratch with original ingredients that complement each other. The hot and sour soup was red, vibrant and flavourful.
For those who cannot handle their spice, there was an option of Kaeng Lueang, a yellow Thai curry which exudes a creamy richness, and is mild and soothing to the tongue. The curry made with lemongrass, yellow chili, coriander and other ingredients goes well with the fried rice. But the best part of the meal is the gentle coconut flavor infused in the dishes.
One could happily pack a meal entirely made of snacks too – spicy chicken Thai salad, chicken pandan leaf, stir-fried chicken, Pad Thai and fried rice.
The popular papaya salad isrefreshing, sweet and tangy. The chicken, tender and fried lightly in oyster sauce, tastes of white pepper and mild garlic. The pad Thai noodles have sprouts and hence a slight crunch. The noodles and fried rice, not as loaded with fresh hot chilies as other dishes, go well with the curry.
From Tom Yum to Gaeng Keow Wan Kai, it is the honesty and love in this lavish feast that makes Chef Polgeng's visit such a gastronomic delight.
Till 2 July, 7pm-10.45pm, Bao Xuan Restaurant, Soaltee Hotel, Kathmandu
Read more: Kathmandu’s own ‘Eataly’, Sonia Awale