Sommelier Karim Boulet, located in Melbourne, Australia two months out of the year, otherwise working and traveling around the globe the rest of the time is sharing his experiences and thoughts in a blog for the Wandering Palate audience; look out for his regular postings. Also click here for more on Karim and his interview on the ‘Sommelier’s Palate’
“The idea of trying so many combinations of flavors, textures, and way of eating were finally answered as soon as I entered the cheerful kingdom of Thailand and Cambodia.”
It is as much a fantasy as it is an exploration of all senses. I came to realize how much fun one can have with one nose, one palate and a great sense of imagination.
I was impressed with the variety of options in Bangkok; its affordability and creativity is inviting, from breakfast to dinner, eager street food vendors are ready to serve your palate. I infused my spirit into a khao khai chao (fried omelet with steamy white rice, often eaten with a sauce made in hell and fresh diced cucumbers to relieve your flaming tongue).
Now, you can guess how much spice I can really handle, I must be honest with you, it was about time for me to subject my palate into the furnace of spices. I thought only Thai coffee could wake me prior to visit the Emerald Temple, but that morning my brain rediscovered a new way of wiring all its nerves, Jungle Curry!
I ventured into trying what I would call the Asian Noodles Bolognese, made from rice noodles in a clear pork broth, a spoonful of nam phrik ing (a sauce made from minced pork, tomato, fermented soy bean or shrimp paste, and dried chilies). I wish I could tell you that my dish was paired with a glass of La Spinetta Barbera d ‘ Alba ‘Ca di Pian’ 2009 from Piedmont Italy, but I had to settle for a refreshing Chang beer, lager style, simple, straight to the point and the point was: cooling down!
Then there was the eclectic chim chum; picture an empty plant pot in which you would add all sorts of meats, vegetables, mushrooms, and noodles all steamed in a clear herbal broth of lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves.
Lemongrass makes a sensational scent in hotels hallways which in turn are filled with genuine smiles; the care and attention applied to customers throughout the day would make Thailand and Cambodia adequate candidate for the epicenter of ‘caring from the heart’, a program designed to guide and help hospitality personnel fine tuning and connecting from the heart. Just an idea!
I was enchanted by the generosity and self-reliance of the populace; I was able to connect easily with the locals, tourists, landscape, monuments, and myself included.
Let’s dive into the next level of palpitation by entering the world of Sra Bua, one of the most inventive, playful and exotic venue within the walls of the Siam Kempinski Hotel, Bangkok.
Please, follow me!
Being late for a reservation is not fun, especially when you have anticipated and prepared for it so passionately! I must have forgotten about Bangkok’s traffic. Originally, I was to show up alone and play inspector gadget, a dear friend of mine agreed to join me on my quest for new and fragrant sensations, so I made the effort of changing role play, as: myself!
Leaving the taxi, jumping onto a scooter and arriving on time was a plausible outcome. Instead, we settled for an hilarious ride in the center of town (our ‘chauffeur’ was off the chart). An hour late for our reservation and yet in the most forgiving attitude, we were welcome as if we were returned customers.
Attitude is really everything, most of the time anyway!
I would have wanted to walk from the doorstep of the hotel to the restaurant blindfolded! It would be a magnificent option for Valentine.
The purity of the restaurant design, the clarity and mesmerizing words chosen to depict the multiple choices offered to us, the structure of the tasting menu (blending of Thai classics and new modern orchestration of Thai cuisine), the choices of wine pairing, cocktail pairings and….juice pairing.
Really, who I am kidding here?
I bet you would like to hear what we had for diner!
Highlights of the night: Tuna Tartar with lemon grass paired with a glass of Brundlmayer Gruner Veltliner from the Kamptal region of Austria. Smoked Mackerel Salad with herbs and Fermented Soy Bean Dressing paired with a glass of Donnhoff Riesling from the Nahe region of Germany. Banana Cake with Salted Ice Cream and Caramel paired with a cocktail named Sweet Ending (Rum, Midori, Blue Curacao, Pineapple Juice, and Coconut Milk.
What a memorable and blissful evening! I really wanted the night to stay on ‘repeat’ mode or ‘shuffle’ and alternate between menus, at the condition my stomach agreed to it. Wishful thinking! The portion were small enough for me to rejoice by the thought of returning again and again and invite more friends along (US $80 for 8 courses).
I manage to squeeze a reservation at Gaggan in Bangkok, on my own this time! I arrived at 6:30pm sharp and was greeted by Chef Gaggan; he was probably waiting for me!
Ok, he just happened to be around the hostess stand! The restaurant was of a colonial style and pearl sky white. I truly enjoyed seeing the Chef catering to his customers, pouring wine, and silvering a table.
As I sat, I was given a large book in which you could read ‘Gaggan’ Progressive Indian Cuisine.
Each dishes had a name, like a poem!
My favorites were Chowpati Year 2050 (Yogurt with mango chutney), Beauty and the Beast (Young potatoes stuffed with sun dried figs), Green with Envy (Green peppercorn marinated chicken kebabs served with coriander chutney foam), Cosmic Pearls (Oysters with lemon foam, angel flowers and spiced sea salt from the Indian Ocean), The Goose is not cooked (Organic Hungarian foie gras roasted in its own powder, cold ‘torch on’ or torchon served with Indian berry chutney).
In retrospect, understanding the cuisine, its goal and effect was enhanced by witnessing people’s way of life. My mind was held captive in Southeast Asia and it was a sensational experience, full of surprises.
I made new friends from all walks of life, they shared their stories genuinely, and I shared mine as well.
I have now a new bond with Thai and Khmer culture, and going back will be that much more delightful.
If I had to sum it all up, the words that come to mind are Generosity and Openness!
Cheers and keep your eyes open for my next destination: Copenhagen!