Beyond technique, ingredients and flavour.
This year has seen the rise of upscale Thai restaurants in the Bangkok food scene, especially since the latest Michelin Guide results came out. Chefs have proved that Thai cooking has stood the test of time and is no longer limited to homestyle cooking in order to be regarded as “traditional” or “authentic”. The burning question is, however, which elements need to remain the same in order for modern Thai fine dining cuisine to still be considered original? Is it only the presentation and plating design or have certain prepping methods also changed?
It may be challenging to recreate the original taste of Thailand while accepting inevitable changes in the contemporary food industry. But according to Chef Chumpol Changprai, Thai food can be versatile. His restaurant, R-Haan defines authenticity into three angles: cooking technique, ingredients and flavour–these should stay the same as how the previous generations executed them. The characteristic of being “alive” allows Thai cookery to be adaptable yet preserves some of the old meanings and traditions. His great grandmother and childhood nostalgia didn’t simply inspire him, it fostered his goal to bring back happiness he once felt around the kitchen table as well as access to local wisdom.
Chef Chumpol and his team approach traditional Thai cooking the way he sees musical notes, in which little gap is left between each flavour. In general, rich flavours combination needs to constitute a “balance” of five basic tastes: sour, sweet, oily, salty and spicy. There also needs to be an emphasis on a more specific range of bitterness with bitter, tart and acidic notes. These help enhance the overall flavour profile in a dish–if done right. Those last three flavour enhancers come from the use of lime juice which should only be added at the end of cooking or before serving but without the heat. This was evident in R-Haan’s tom yum goong served in a glass siphon. Furthermore, level of spiciness is key to dictating different preferences between Thai and foreign tastebuds. For example, a toned down green curry might lose its true identity.
In terms of adjustment, one factor that is often improved for a more accessible mouthfeel is texture. A few ancient menus consist of textures that are quite difficult to enjoy, such as, the sticky crumbly Sesbania flower dessert that chefs have modified the cooking method a bit to make it more accessible for eaters’ palate today. Chef Chumpol also says that it is important to keep up with seasonal ingredients and sub-ingredients as well as their origins. In other words, understanding Thai cuisine in modern dining society allows R-Haan to meticulously demonstrate royal recipes through their new Royal Thai Summer Menu (through May 9 on weekends) and exclusive Thai Gastronomy Series II collaboration with Chef Henrik YdeAndersen, founder of Kiin Kiin restaurant in Copenhagen and the inspiration behind SraBua by Kiin Kiin, and Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin Head Chef Chayawee Sutcharitchan; hence giving customers more opportunities to experience rare meals.
R.HAAN restaurant: 131 Sukhumvit 53 (Pai Di Ma Di), Thonglor Soi 9, Khlong Tan Nuea, Wattana, Bangkok, Thailand 10110
Tel +662 059 0433-4