One Bite in Bangkok
Tom yam goong, photo by Sarah Wyatt
Tom yam goong, photo by Sarah Wyatt
In my perfect culinary world, every neighborhood would contain one cooking school, a Michelin-starred chef and an oyster bar. I discover my fantasy triad in Bangkok, a multicultural city that celebrates what’s best about its diverse culinary traditions. Locals, clearly proud to live in a cosmopolitan city, easily communicate with English-speaking visitors and point me to the best spots to shamelessly nosh.
I wander first into May Kaidee’s, a Buddhist vegetarian cooking school has been in existence since 1988 and has proudly graduated thousands of students from more 20 different countries. Known to vegetarians and vegans worldwide, the school’s half-day introductory class commences with lesson on making chili paste with traditional mortar and pestle. An introductory discussion of Thai spices and herbs begins at the cooking school and continues during a trip to the nearby open-air market. Students are introduced to a range of native vegetables and fruits, and watch spring roll wrappers made rapidly on a specially designed hot pan.
Returning to the school, guests learn to make a variety of traditional Thai favorites, including Tom Yum soup and green curry, and healthy “raw” entrees, such fresh spring rolls and papaya salad, then conclude with a Thai dance lesson.
I depart May Kaidee’s for Siam Niramit, an impressive show featuring more than 100 performers, lavish costumes and stunning set designs, and performed on an enormous stage listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. Before taking in the show, I stop by the theater’s large buffet dinner offering a wide range of Thai, Indian and European cuisine. Guests can dine on freshly barbecued fish, chicken or pork, or request local favorites such as Som Tam (spicy salad) or Pad Thai (fried noodles) and even get noodle soup from a boat on the outdoor waterway.
The following evening is the highlight of the trip: my visit to Mezzaluna, Bangkok’s signature fine dining restaurant. Mezzaluna has hosted some of the most expensive and exclusive dinners in the world, included the heralded $31,250 (USD) per person gourmet extravaganza during the Epicurean Masters of the World II gala dinner in 2007. As an indication to the clientele Mezzaluna attracts, a maximum of one kilogram of Iranian Almas, the most expensive caviar in the world, is produced every year, of which Mezzaluna alone consumes 30%.
The restaurant’s renowned Michelin-starred twin chefs, Thomas and Mathias Sühring, create modern and innovative dishes by using seasonally-inspired menus that are redesigned daily. Guests are offered the choice of two menu formats; an exquisite three-course menu is complemented by a more elaborate six-course chef’s tasting menu with optional wine pairings.
Prior to heading up Mezzaluna, the Sührings worked with a handful of three-star Michelin chefs, including Chef Sven Elverfeld, Chef Heinz Beck, and Chef Jonny Boer. Chefs Thomas and Mathias were invited to take part in the 10th Anniversary International Festival of Food and Wine organized by The Ritz-Carlton Wolfsburg to celebrate its tenth birthday in 2010. The five-day event presented high-profile chefs in celebration of achievements such as hotel awards and for achieving the first, second and now third Michelin star.
For post-feast cocktails, I stopped at nearby Distil, a spacious bar known for many items not available in any other outlet in Thailand, including Martin Miller’s gin, Havana Club Selección de Maestros Rum, Absolut 100 vodka, L’Or Martell Cognac and Royal Salute 62 Gun Salute whisky, as well as exclusive champagne, including G.H Mumm Rene Lalou 1999, G.H Mumm Grand Cru and Perrier-Jouët, Blason, Rosé. With resident DJs spinning tunes in the background, hand-rolled Cuban cigars are savored in the adjoining open-air terrace overlooking the Chao Phraya River and the city skyline.
While the drinks and music are hot, my favorite feature at Distil is the oyster bar, where fresh Eagle Rock, Pickering Passage, Hama Hama, and Fines de Claire oysters are flown in twice weekly from US and France. The bar also offers fresh sushi and sashimi, Beluga Impérial Huso Huso, Ossetra Royal Réserve, and Sevruga Royal Réserve.
The following day, I conclude my stay in Bangkok at the Lebua Hotel, starting with a three-hour Thai cooking class at Café Mozu. Conducted by Thai Chef de Cuisine Prayong Khundongling, the three-hour class teaches guests about local ingredients and how to taste and prepare traditional Thai dishes. Students prepare a traditional five-course Thai meal and dessert followed by a poolside lunch.
Later, I waft by Breeze, located on the 51st floor of the hotel. Its stunning views, accessed over a 25 meter neon-lit sky bridge, and complemented with a sumptuous menu of contemporary Asian cuisine. Its Chef, Sam Leong, is a trendsetter in modern Chinese cuisine, having served public figures including former US presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, and Queen Elizabeth II of England.
After dinner, I climb into bed and fall swiftly asleep to the soothing sounds of the city, flanked with the majestic Chao Phraya River. I’m sad to leave Bangkok the next day, for I concur with those who cite its inhabitants as among the friendliest people on earth. Whether learning to make chili paste, sampling Iranian caviar or sipping Royal Salute 100 cask whisky, I’ve found this city to be filled with gastronomic delights.
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