Thai food has always been very close to my heart ever since I started visiting yesteryear’s Siam or rather Thailand (as it is known today)! So, when I was invited for Food Tasting at Benjarong, I was more than excited to cover the event. I have always wondered what is holding back restaurateurs in Kolkata to open up a full fledged stand-alone Thai restaurant in the city of joy, and surely Benjarong has been the answer. So, being a Thai food lover this place is also very close to my heart. And it has added new dimensions in the food map of the city and helped people get accustomed to the pristine flavors of lemongrass, galangal, kaafir lime, sweet basil leaves. For me, I am even in mad love with the so-called pungent smelling Fish Sauce which is used so rampantly in Thai dishes.
Definitely Benjarong has taken the step forward, an initiative to experiment with the taste buds of Kolkatans who were already not familiar with Thai cuisine before they got introduced to the same at this restaurant. And kudos to the team for showing the courage to experiment with the food habits of this rather conventional Chinese cuisine loving population, who sometimes try Thai dishes expecting the same Chinese flavors from them! But saying so, there are genuine Thai food lovers in the city these days and also there are people who love to explore new cuisines, this place is surely a piece of heaven for them.
Now coming to the Bangkok Street food Festival tasting event, I was there at this amazing fine dine restaurant (under the umbrella of Oriental Cuisines Pvt Ltd) along with other Panch phoron members. The spread was amazing but before delving deep into the food let’s check out some other basic pointers that will enable you to enjoy this food even better. First the location – It’s pretty easy to reach this place, you need to come to South City Mall on Prince Anwar Shah Road and go to the food Court level, where you can spot the Benjarong restaurant along with other restaurants like Mainland China, etc on the same floor. A sleeping Buddha and loads of certificates and accolades welcome you to this place; the décor is very apt and classy. Nothing has been overdone and there is nothing flashy, the place somehow exudes warmth and essence of the Thai culture which has been shaped by many influences, including Lao, Burmese, Cambodian, Chinese and Indian. The presence of traditional Thai Ram dance headdress crown in paintings and statues, and figurines makes you feel your flight has just landed in Bangkok and you are all surrounded by performers and dancers. Actually this pointed crown is typical of Thailand and it can be found in the structure of the Stupas at Ayutthaya which were all burnt and destroyed during the dreadful Burmese–Siamese War centuries back. There is more such history behind and cultural richness stuffed in this place, but one thing is for sure – Thailand or rather Bangkok is not even half complete if you do not taste the authentic local Thai food. The awesome punch of taste and aroma will make you go weak at the knees. And personally I love the Thai street food and you can locate me mostly at street food stalls when I’m there at Bangkok. But at Kolkata I never thought the authentic delicacies of Thai street food can be served, that too in such a comfy and urbane environment.
This food festival will run till April 24th. And now this is the right time to discuss about the food that you can get to taste at this festival –
a). Chaa yen – This is one of the most refreshing mocktails (or rather welcome drink) I have had in a long time that too presented so beautifully with purple Thai orchid on top, this orangish drink is basically a Thai iced tea.
b). Bangkok breeze – This had loads of Thai ingredients in it that make it taste so good, bit on the sweeter side which I really loved. Again a refreshing drink, perfect to beat the scorching Kolkata heat, it is basically a blend of carrot, orange along with crushed lemon grass.
c). Summer cooler – It is basically a mocktail presented as a whole coconut with lemon slice and cherry topping. It is with tender coconut water and combined with lemon juice, fresh mint leaves, and a dash of honey.
d). Lychee mojito – It was stuffed with lychee pulps which was so amazing and it is basically a mocktail version of mojito, with loads of lychee in it.
a). Thai twist – Though I did not taste the cocktails but we were informed that this drink has got lemon grass, galangal, lemon and kafer lime leaves in it with vodka and lemonade.
b). Water melon and basil Martini – This red colored water melon based drink was presented in a martini glass and had gin , of course water melon, basil and crushed ice in it.
Coming to the best part of the meal:
a). Gai ping – This was the star dish for sure. These are basically marinated chicken skewers grilled to perfection and served with an awesome tangy spicy dip. The texture, aroma and flavor were simply out of the world. Must try!
b). Lookchin pla yang – Again another star dish but this had subtle flavors and an amazing texture to it with that firm skin, these were the grilled fish dumplings on skewers and served with chef’s special dip.
c). Sai krok Isan – These were bit too spicy and was basically the Thai Isan chicken sausages grilled on skewers and served. Typical food that you will find on streets of Bangkok! Great if you can bite some ginger along with it.
d). Goong tod chatuchak – This was the most innovative dish of the evening. These are the panco crumbled prawns coated with the layer of minced chicken paste and deep fried. These were served with sweet chilli sauce, which is a delicacy from the Chatuchak weekend market which is the largest market in Thailand.
e). Thung nung goong & Thung nung je – These were two varieties of dimsums which we felt could have been better, they are served with basil sauce which can be kept but there needs to be a super spicy red chilli paste, also the skin of the momo should be thinner. Thung nung goong is a steamed dimsums with prawn fillings. And Thung nung je is a steamed Thai dimsum with tofu and water chests nut in it..
f). Hed ruam prik khi noo – Another amazing veg dish. These are just wok tossed assorted mushrooms with garlic, bird eye chillies and kaffir lime leaves.
a). Hormok talay – This steamed sea food mousse was a star item according to me. It was served in small bowls and you can savor it with some aromatic jasmine rice.
b). Poo pahd pong kari – It looked amazing and tasted awesome! These are hard shelled crabs cooked with celery in Thai red curry. The gravy is bit dried up and that intensifies the flavors. Must try!
c). Bamee pahd gratiem prik daeng haeng gai – As the name suggests this is wok tossed soft noodles with chicken in it and loads of garlic and dry red chilies.
d). Bamee pahd gratiem prik daeng haeng je – Similar to last item but this is the veg variant. It is wok tossed soft noodles with exotic veggies, garlic and dry red chilies.
e). Lard na gai – These are some awesome Thai flat noodle tossed with sesame, garlic, soya sauce and chicken pieces. The flat noodles could have been made separated from each other which could have made the dish even more enjoyable.
f) Lard na je – Similar to the last one, this is the veg version with loads of exotic veggies in it, the Thai flat noodle are tossed with sesame, garlic, and soya sauce.
a) Khao niew dahm polamai – I tasted this for the first time, it is a sweetened black sticky rice topped with coconut cream and loads of tropical fruits, this whole combination took the sticky rice to another level.
Overall, this was an awesome experience and over the years the consistency that Benjarong has shown is simply amazing. Loads of honest efforts can only yield such fine results, but not to forget the imported ingredients which are very vital to get that authentic taste and aroma. But use of these imported ingredients result in prices of the dishes to go up, but then this is the price you can pay for the quality and authenticity. So you can always be here at this place to taste authentic Thai dishes sitting right here in Kolkata, and if you are new to the city then this is surely a place you won’t like to miss. I wish the team all the best and hope they are able to spread the flavors of Thailand to other parts of the city as well!