When he set up shop in Mumbai two years ago, Chef Achichin Wong’s first culinary surprise was discovering the humble vada pav.
The 48-year-old Thai head chef of Vong Wong restaurant at Nariman Point is also a fan of Indian food with its spicy flavours and myriad varieties. Determined to change the way city dwellers view Thai cooking, Chef Wong offers some tips to amateur cooks.
Appetisers and entrées are not to be served in different courses. All dishes are placed on the table at the same time.. so that the diners can select what they would like to sample. Everything, including the soup, is accompanied by steamed rice to balance the spicy flavours.
To combat the humid climate the chef suggests drinks like ice tea and lemonade. In fact, even water can be served with ice.
Social drinkers stick to their beer (which Wong admits does an excellent job of stimulating the taste buds), only occasionally opting for a fruity cocktail. Hot coffee or tea is drunk only occasionally after the meal.
Though most people believe that Thai curry begins with red curry and green curry, the Yellow Curry and Masman Curry are popular traditional dishes. The secret to Thai curries is the generous amount of coconut milk added to the mix, which makes it thicker than its Indian counterpart.
For a quick dish that is guaranteed to impress your dinner guests, try the spicy Nam Prik Dip. Made from crushed chillies, garlic and onion, boiled fish or prawns are added. The mixture is ground into a paste. After flavouring it with lemon and salt, it is eaten with rice, noodles or even with chips.
Vegetarians needn’t feel left out. Fish oil, which is used in a large number of dishes, can be substituted with soy sauce. The salty flavour of soy sauce makes up for the fish sauce.
Desserts in Thailand are not eaten as a conclusion to a meal but as a snack. ako, a sticky sweet concoction of coconut milk, rice flour, chestnuts and sugar is set in a pandan or screw vine leaf.
The most important utensil in a Thai kitchen would be a mortar and pestle. Wong believes in using homemade masalas and finds that the mortar is indispensable for grinding the spices and herbs. He also advises home-owners to stock up on paring knives which can make quick work of the vegetables.
In his kitchen, hygiene is Wong’s number one rule. He insists that all cooks wash their chopping board after every use so that the smell and taste of one dish isn’t transferred to another.