The festive season conjures up images of Western-style turkeys and baked hams, but the capital’s top Thai chefs are also getting involved.
by Thomas Sturrock.
Christmas may not be a natural fit for a largely Buddhist country, but Thai people tend to embrace any excuse for a party—to eat and drink and make merry. So perhaps it should be no surprise that there are several ingenious ways for Thai cuisine to be adapted and presented with a generous lashing of the Christmas spirit.
At Le Du Wine Bar and Restaurant (399/3 Silom Soi 7; 092 919 9969; www.ledubkk.com), chef Ton Tassanakajohn will be serving a 12-course tasting menu inspired by a famous Thai poem, written by the second king of the Rattanakosin line. The poem outlines an exquisite banquet, and at Le Du chef Ton has taken it upon himself to recreate the dishes described in his own distinctive style.
“He composed this poem, talking about his favorite Thai food—it’s very famous,” Tassanakajohn explains. “It’s very traditional Thai food and some of the ingredients are already lost, so we had to do a lot of research.”
Highlights include the massaman curry with lamb belly and potato foam, and spicy raw prawn salad with prawn-head sauce and vegetables. There’s also a pork spleen served with wild mushroom and burnt chili gel. Throughout, chef Ton’s modern take of Thai food is evident but he insists he is hewing more traditional here than in his regular menu.
“We want every dish to taste very similar to the original idea,” he explains. “Sometimes with a menu I will move further ahead, but this time I want people to feel a bit of the original.”
At Issaya Siamese Club (4 Soi Sri Aksorn, Chuaphloeng Road; 02 672 9040; www.issaya.com), chef Ian Kittichai goes all out to celebrate the festive season, putting his own spin on Christmas classics.
“We’ll do the turkey leg and turkey breast with all the old-fashioned trimmings,” he says. “But the turkey will be an osso buco and the trimmings will come with a curry of chestnut, red cabbages, and sweet potato.
“We’ll also have a venison carpaccio—the venison is in season—with a som tam mix of crunchy greens, like the papaya and mango, and som tam sauce with cashew nut and lime juice.”
Kittichai has always been committed to using seasonal produce but it goes up notch when it comes to his special desserts.
“In Thailand, the fruits will change every three months; mangosteens and passion fruits are coming into season, so we’ll use them,” he says.
“We’ll also use pumpkin for a Thai version of crème brûlée. And then we’ll also have a Christmas pudding or a brownie—we’ll do that like a Christmas fruitcake, but with all the Thai candied fruits, such as marinated mango.”
Meanwhile, at Siam Wisdom (66 Sukhumvit Soi 31; 02 260 7811; www.siamwisdomcuisine.com), chef Chompul Jangprai sees Christmas as a chance to introduce the most boutique ingredients that Thailand has to offer.
“For Christmas and New Year, we want to celebrate,” he says, “so I’ll be getting some Phuket lobster. We wouldn’t use it for the regular menu—special occasions only.
“We’ll have some Thai caviar from The Royal Project. I’ll get some baby lamb farmed up in Korat, and serve them with a basil sauce.”
Chompul also embraces seasonal ingredients, taking advantage of the fact that it is harvest season, to include fresh Thai mackerel and more coconut-based soups.
“Thai mackerel will be number one ingredient,” he says. “I’ll do three different dishes: one as a salad, another with lotus stem and coconut milk, like a lon; and a third dish with the mackerel grilled in a curry.
“For soups, it’s winter, so we need something a little bit creamy. I’ll try to explore some traditional Thai cuisine as well, like khao soi. It’s good all year round but particularly in winter, because it’s creamy.”