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Tried and Tasted: Fan of Southeast Asian cuisine? Here’s something you can’t miss

Tried and Tasted: Where can you get great Southeast Asian food in Delhi? We tell you where.

more lifestyle Updated: Apr 02, 2017 14:19 IST
Rahul Verma
Tried and Tasted
Indians are looking for better Southeast Asian food and we have just the thing for you.(HT Photo)

A revolution knocks on the door – and it comes with a fork and knife. The world of food is more exciting than ever before. New restaurants are coming up offering novel cuisines or digging out old ones. Chefs are looking at unusual ingredients and dramatic ways of presenting food. Meanwhile, some wizened old experts continue to wield magic with their skewers and ladles in remote parts of the city. There is a world waiting to be discovered or re-embraced– new cooking styles, world food, sub-regional cuisine and tiny holes in the wall which produce the most delightful dishes. Here’s a guided tour.

Time was when a telephone was an odd looking black box with a dial. And time was when Southeast Asian food meant a bowl of noodles for most of us. But times change – as you can tell with the way phones have transformed, along with our perception of food from other Asian countries.

Now that Indians are travelling more, Southeast Asian food is no longer a mystery. Restaurants have come up across the country catering to Thai, Malaysian, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Burmese tastes. But the cuisine of Southeast Asia is such a treasure trove that the more you eat, the more will want it.

Take their street food for instance. Much like in India, it is one of the most popular forms of food. But unlike many parts of the region where street food would usually mean small snacks, in Southeast Asia, it also works as a full meal. People walk out of their homes to a small shack on the roadside for their breakfast, lunch or dinner – or small meals in between. And everything is on offer there – from noodle soup and seafood fried rice to stir fried meat, steamed dumplings, skewers and cut fruits.

I love the street food of the region, and was happy to find it in a restaurant in Delhi. Ping’s Café Orient in the Lodhi Colony Market brings to the table some of the much loved dishes of the region. The familiar dishes – Penang curry of Malaysia, red or green curry of Thailand and khao suey of Myanmar and northern Thailand -- are all there, but you also get pho soup of Vietnam, laksa of Malaysia, nasi goreng of Indonesia or one of Singapore’s much loved charcoal roast pork skewers.

Many of the dishes have cousins elsewhere. Fried rice, for instance, is not restricted to the nasi goreng, but has versions – with different kinds of toppings -- everywhere in the region. Likewise, dumplings and baos. I had the pork char sui bao at Ping’s, and loved the juicy meat in the casing.

Many of the dishes are meals in a bowl. They come with noodles or rice in a thick sauce enriched with stock – usually prepared with meat or fish. The curry is flavoured with herbs and other ingredients that the region is known for – lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and so on. Chef Prantush Rai of Ping, for instance, does a delicious shrimp tom yam with lemon grass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and Thai chillies. And I love the noodles that he prepares with roasted pork, ginger, fried onions and scallions.

You will find some very strong flavours in the cuisine. The fish sauce, for instance, is pungent and the shrimp paste is sharp. I enjoy the salt and sweet mix of many dishes in Southeast Asia. Thailand’s sticky rice with mango, prepared with rice, coconut milk and ripe mangoes, is a case in point – and mouth-wateringly good.

The food is healthy, for, barring a few dishes, it’s seldom deep fried. Many of the dishes are simply steamed. Another great thing about the food is that it is filling yet light on the stomach. You eat to your heart’s content, and then, like that boy Oliver, ask for some more.

(Rahul Verma has been writing on food for over 25 years now. And, after all these years, he has come to the conclusion that the more he writes, the more there is left to be written)