An Emoji Evening at Gaggan

Gaggan Menu

The Emoji Menu at Gaggan

I used to watch Masterchef on TV and turn up my nose in disdain when looking at the food that was prepared. Tiny bite sized portions, surrounded by edible flowers and “negative space”.  What the hell is negative space? It’s an empty plate! I wouldn’t pay for that! When I go out for a meal I want a decent sized helping of food. I’m still growing!

But this all changed after I visited a restaurant in Ubud called Locavore and had an eight course degustation menu. The food and the experience blew my mind, and I actually wasn’t hungry afterwards. Eight courses ended up being over twenty once you added in the amuse bouche’s and various other tantalising morsels and after a two hour lunch I left the restaurant stuffed and with a very satisfied smile on my face. No more would I scoff at Master Chef! I had seen the light. In fact, I learned to appreciate the amount of effort that goes into conceptualising and then creating each dish. I loved the way too that dishes would look like one thing but taste of something completely different. It really is an art.

One day while watching Netflix, The Boss and I chanced upon a series called Chef’s Table. One of the episodes was about an Indian Chef, Gaggan Anand, who despite an underprivileged background became a world class Chef and created the eponymous restaurant Gaggan in Bangkok, now ranked number 7 amongst the Top 50 restaurants of the world ( 2017 ). His story was fascinating and inspirational.

Now, The Boss and I never go out to eat Indian food. We can eat it at home, cooking being one of The Boss’s innumerable talents. Most Indian restaurants turn out the same average homogenised dishes which bear very little relation to what one would get in an Indian home. Mainly slight variations on a few North Indian dishes and completely ignoring the incredible diversity that makes up real Indian cuisine.

However the documentary about Gaggan piqued our interest and we thought that maybe, one day, when we were in Bangkok and tired of eating Thai food, we might give his restaurant a try. But it wasn’t high on our list of priorities.

Then, in a masterstroke of marketing genius Gaggan announced he is closing the restaurant to pursue other ventures.

Boom! I went online and booked a table.

The earliest booking I could get was three months later but as time does, those three months passed surprisingly quickly. As the day neared, the excitement and anticipation grew although we sometimes questioned the extravagance of flying to another country just to have a meal. But we hadn’t been to Bangkok for a while and we saw it as a good excuse to take a break from Hong Kong for a few days.

On the day itself we were ready early, having read in online reviews that if you don’t arrive on time your reservation is cancelled. We didn’t know if this was true or not but we weren’t willing to take a chance especially with Bangkok’s notorious traffic. We opted for the BTS SkyTrain as the safest way to get there and then walked the 1km from the station to the restaurant arriving 15mins before our scheduled seating time. Gaggan is located in a converted and renovated old wooden house to the rear of an apartment building and we walked down the driveway from the main road to be greeted at the door by smiling staff who after checking our name led us into the crisp white interior. Surprisingly we weren’t the first to arrive, there were already other diners seated and waiting, and we were taken past them and up the stairs to the first floor all the while being greeted and welcomed by other staff members as we passed.

Once seated a waiter came over and introduced himself. He happened to be from Bombay so The Boss and he established which part of the big city each other was from and where they grew up. Formalities over, the conversation soon moved on to the single sheet of tracing paper that lay on the table in front of us.

“That Sir, Madam, is your menu”

The paper was blank apart from a single column of emojis running from the top to the bottom of the page.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Yes Sir, it’s an emoji menu. You have to guess what each dish is using the emojis”

The Boss and I looked at each other and laughed. This looked like it was going to be a fun evening.

“All the food is finger food. You will have to use your hands for all, bar a couple of courses for which we will supply you with cutlery. But don’t get used to it!”

We both examined the menu more closely. Some of the emojis gave an obvious hint as to what the course contained, a prawn, an aubergine for example, but others were confusing. Fire, a cup of tea, a martini glass, a fire cracker.

While we were puzzling over the menu, another young man in a suit approached our table.

“Good evening I am your sommelier for the evening. Here is the wine list. Please take a look and I will be happy to answer any questions or make any recommendations”

The wine list was huge and I could have spent all evening finding something to drink so I asked for something white by the glass that would go with everything, hoping he wouldn’t bring me a glass of Lassi.

“I will be right back” he said, returning a few minutes later with a bottle of German white which he proceeded to open in front of me, all the while explaining it’s antecedents.  It sounded very impressive and I arranged my face into what I hoped was a suitably knowing expression, trying to give the impression that I understood what he was talking about. I nodded here and there at what I thought were suitable intervals and he poured some into a glass, pausing to allow me to taste it. I took a sip and thought to myself “does anyone ever tell the sommelier that the wine he chose is terrible? What happens if I don’t like it? He just opened a fresh bottle in front of me. Will I still have to pay for it?”

Instead I went for the easy answer, “excellent choice! delicious, Thank you.”

The Boss had other thoughts on her mind. “Are you French?” she asked.

“Yes I am.”

“But you don’t have a French accent.”

“I can do one if you prefer” he replied with a grin.

The Boss wasn’t about to let him off that easily. “Why not?”

“I was brought up in Scotland, lived in Denmark and spent a year touring around India on an Enfield motorbike.”

“Oh really! That’s interesting. What was your favourite part of India?”

“Galouti kebabs in Lucknow.”

We all laughed.

“That wasn’t the answer I expected” admitted The Boss.

“Well, it was my favourite part of India. I consider Awadhi Cuisine to be the most developed and complex cuisine in the country. I love it” and with that he was off to the next table with the rest of the bottle.

The first course promptly arrived, a tiny but beautiful bite sized morsel. The waiter explained what it was and how it matched the first of 25 emojis on the menu.

I don’t want to give anything away and ruin the experience for any readers who decide to visit the restaurant so I wont describe the food in detail. I also don’t want to sound like a pompous food critic and talk about complexity of flavours and textures etc but suffice it to say each dish was a piece of art and an incredible explosion of flavours in the mouth.

Every dish was completely different and we were both amazed as to how Gaggan had thought of them. He has to be some kind of genius. To come up with one of the dishes is clever enough but to think of 25 courses is beyond comprehension.

I will be the first to admit that The Boss and I had an unfair advantage over many of the other diners having lived for a considerable amount of time in India and being able to recognise certain flavours in a dish that bore little or no resemblance to the traditional original dish, but even so, the flavours and combinations were such that anyone would be amazed by the meal.

As each dish arrived we tried to guess what it was from the corresponding emoji on the menu. Sometimes the waiter would tell us, sometimes he would give a hint, and sometimes we would have to guess while he walked away with a grin on his face.

Each dish seemed to build on the anticipation of the next, as they were all so different and incredible it was hard to imagine how he could better it.

The dishes were tiny though, often consumable in one mouthful. The Boss wondered if she would need to go for another meal afterwards as she was convinced she would still be hungry.

After one particularly tasty mutton dish, the Thai waiter asked us how it was. “Delicious” came our unanimous reply.

He grinned and said “If it was bigger it would be perfect.”

We agreed but by the time we had finished the tenth course The Boss admitted she was getting full.

Adding to the enjoyment of the evening was the interaction with the staff. Their service was exceptional and the repartee between them and the guests very amusing. They obviously enjoy their jobs.

After a poultry dish one of the waiters asked us “Did you know what that bird was? No? It was penguin.”

Some of the dishes were prepared at the table by one of the Chefs and this added to the whole theatre like experience.

It wasn’t just us that were enjoying it. The oohs and ahh from the other tables and the facial expressions on our fellow diners indicated that everyone was having a similar experience.

The meal was extra special for me as it was like a journey around India, each dish reminding me of something I had eaten, somewhere I had been, sometimes the flavours very familiar, but sometimes hard to identify because the visual aspect of the dish in front of me didn’t match the picture created in my head by the flavour.

It was a wonderful experience, not just a meal but a form of theatre and if you are planning a trip to Bangkok in the future I highly recommend that you make a booking as soon as possible before Gaggan closes down. You wont regret it!

I am looking forward to his new venture in Japan.

Reservations for Gaggan can be made online at

www.eatatgaggan.com

or by phone:

Ph. (662) 652 1700

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The dangers of speaking a foreign language!

I am always trying to ingratiate myself with the locals when I travel, by attempting to speak at least a few words in the local tongue. Whilst it often has a good effect sometimes it gets me into trouble, particularly in countries where the language is tonal in nature.
Cantonese for example has six tones (some say 9), none of which I can differentiate. While living in Hong Kong I often, while dining in a restaurant, ordered an egg at the end of a meal when what in fact I wanted was the bill, (luckily most Hong Kongers work out what that the stupid Gweilo murdering their language is saying, based on the context)
I have also during the monsoon, commented on a large fish when I wanted to say that it is raining heavily. It is for reasons like this I suspect that very few expats in HK ever really master the language.
The Thai language is also tonal with 5 tones and it caught me out on my last visit to Bangkok.
Visiting my friend’s office I met his secretary and remembering her name from a previous visit thought I would get into her good books by greeting her effusively in Thai. “Sawasdee Krup Khun Noi” (Hello Miss Noi) I pronounced while giving her the traditional wai (two palms pressed together in prayer position).
I noticed her looking a little unhappy while out of the corner of my eye caught my friend sniggering in the background.
Catching him alone a little later I asked him what I had done wrong. “You called her Khun Noi“ he said. “Isn’t that her name” I asked.
“Yes but you said Noi”
“Exactly” I said.
“No it’s pronounced Noi” to my ears sounding precisely the way I had said it.
“Well it surely doesn’t make much difference” I replied with more than a trace of irritation.
“Oh yes it does” he said. “You just called her Miss Pubic Hair!”

Another Thai food favourite – Erawan Tea Rooms

Erawan Tea RoomsAnother favourite food destination in Bangkok for Tommy, The Boss, and I, is the Erawan Tea Rooms at the Grand Hyatt Erawan.
A little more expensive by Thai standards, however it is worth every penny as the food is always excellent, they have a great range of teas, and their service is superb. The staff recognize us even after a break of 6 months, which adds a few more puffs of air to my already inflated ego.
They even do a Thai inspired High Tea with local snacks and desserts complete with scones with cream and Chiang Mai Strawberry jam.
This is what we had on our recent visit:

Yum Som O - Pomelo Salad

Yum Som O – Pomelo Salad. The Boss not even waiting for me to finish taking a photo!

Grilled Pork Neck

Grilled Pork Neck

Erawan Tea Rooms Food

 

 

Pad Pak Boong Fai Daeng (Stir fried Morning Glory), Tom Yum Koong (Clear and Spicy Prawn Soup) Brown Rice, and Pla Neung Ma Nao ( Steamed fish in a lime sauce).In the Erawan Tea Rooms they cleverly de-bone the whole fish making an already delicious dish even easier to eat!

Rice Dumplings in Coconut milkAnd finally, one of my favourites, Rice dumplings in hot sweet coconut milk.

 

A peaceful haven amidst Bangkok’s bustle

Image

For me, no trip to Bangkok is complete without a trip to the Erawan Shrine.

Located on the bustling Ratchprasong intersection in Sukhumvit, the shrine is a monument to the 4 faced Hindu god Brahma, known as Than Tao Mahaprom in Thai.

The shrine was built back in 1956 and the story goes that when what is now the Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel was under construction there were many problems and delays. An astrologer advised that the land spirits needed to be appeased and proposed that the shrine was built. Once the shrine was completed, the construction proceeded without any problems and the Hotel opened to great success.

Despite the hundreds of cars streaming past and the two layers of Sky-Train tracks above, it is always easy to find an element of peace here. The multitude of worshippers jostling for space, kneeling and praying, seeking solace, all melts away when you close your eyes, replaced instead with a tranquility you yearn to recapture long after leaving.

It is also said that any wish one makes at this shrine comes true, and I have to confess that this has happened for me. So whether it’s inner peace you seek or something more material pay the Shrine a visit next time you are in Bangkok.

In Bangkok I blow-dried my butt!

I’m not a big shopper, in fact I hate shopping most of the time. When the Boss suggests a trip to the mall, it is only to preserve marital harmony that I agree to accompany her. The Boss knows this and usually sweetens the deal with the promise of a nice meal and my friend Tommy then overrules any reluctance I have to join her.
However one place I do enjoy shopping is in Bangkok, mainly because they have such fancy malls.
One of my favorites is Terminal 21, located on the corner of Sukhumvit Soi 21. What appeals to me is not so much the shopping inside, rather the concept that the mall is based on. The ground floor is airport themed complete with the information staff dressed in pseudo flight attendant uniforms, and the maintenance staff looking like they have just come from refueling an Airbus in their bright orange Hi-Vis overalls.

Terminal 21 Sumo Wrestlers
Each floor above this is then themed as a different city. The detail to which the designers have gone to is quite phenomenal. The Japanese floor has paper lanterns, and Sumo Wrestler statues.

Terminal 21 Japanese Lanterns
The London floor has a double decker bus, red phone boxes, staff dressed like Buckingham Palace Guards, and the aisles between the shops are named after streets in London. There is an Istanbul floor, a Paris floor and right at the top, the food court is modeled after Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, complete with the Golden Gate Bridge, seals, and even man- hole covers in the floor inscribed with “City of San Francisco

Terminal 21 Golden Gate Bridge
I have visited the toilets on every floor, in the interests of architectural research of course, to see how far the designers have extended the theme and I am pleased to say they did not stint on these often neglected areas.

The Tokyo floor toilets are entered via a little Japanese garden with stone flooring and the plumbing is via bamboo pipes! The London toilet is modeled after a London Tube station complete with a train!

Japanese Toilet Terminal 21
However the best thing about the toilets is the high tech commodes. One enters the cubicle and sits down on the invariably pristine toilet seat (Thai Shopping mall toilets have to be the cleanest public toilets in the world!).

To your right is a control panel by which you can heat up the toilet seat to your desired temperature – it can get pretty toasty so be careful. If you can smell bacon burning it’s probably a good idea to turn it down. After completing the task for which you entered, you can press another button to heat up the water which is then sprayed on the required areas. Having a jet of cold water fired up the back door isn’t pleasant at the best of times so I was very grateful for this function.
Suitably cleansed one then presses the final button and a draught of warm air wafts gently back and forth across your buttocks ensuring it is safe to re-dress and venture back out into the mall. Practically hands-free!
If only I could fit one of these at home!

Possibly The Best Thai Food in Bangkok!

We discovered this little gem on a previous trip and made sure we scheduled a visit this time. In fact we ate here twice in 3 days.@North East Family

Located diagonally opposite terminal 21 at the Asok interchange in Sukhumvit, is @North East Family, a lovely little place that serves superb Isaan style food.

We have a visual test of a restaurant in Thailand before we enter. If it is full of Thais we eat there as we know the food will be traditional, however if it is full of Westerners we give it a miss. This place we discovered by chance one day and looking inside and seeing it packed with Thai office workers we decided to give it a try.

@North East Family Interior

The food is always delicious and remarkably cheap by Bangkok standards.

Here are some of our favourites ( I apologise for the quality of some of the pics. I was so excited to eat that I didnt check whether the photos were clear or not):

Som Tum, Pad Pak Boong, and Sticky Rice

Som Tum, Pad Pak Boong, and Sticky Rice

Grilled Chicken

Grilled Chicken

Barbecued Pork Neck

Barbecued Pork Neck

Salt Crusted Barbecued Snapper

Salt Crusted Barbecued Snapper

 

 

Culinary indulgence in Bangkok

We started our Bangkok food trip at the Intercontinental with the most deliciously presented coffee we have ever seen, complete with sugar on a stick!

This is how coffee should be served!

This is how coffee should be served!

White Tea and Matcha cookies

White Tea and Matcha cookies

Afternoon Tea at the Intercontinental Bangkok

We ended our trip with this: New Zealand Pinot Noir, Banana and Yoghurt smoothie, and a Coffee Cake. This was just mine, The Boss had a glass of water!

 

I flew to Bangkok for Lunch!

I flew to Bangkok for lunch!
I’ve always wanted to be able to say something like that. I remember as a kid reading about the fabulously rich arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi and how when he got the urge for pasta he would jump in his private jet and fly to Italy.
Apart from the private jet part, I almost did something similar.
Late last year The Boss and I had spent 3 months in Bangkok as a prelim to moving there. After 3 months we had come back to India to renew our visas planning to return to Thailand after a month, however a family member’s poor health had scuttled those plans and we remained in India. We had, though, left 2 suitcases full of possessions in a friend’s apartment and when it looked like we wouldn’t be returning anytime soon, had to organize a way of reuniting ourselves with our belongings.
Sending them by unaccompanied baggage or by courier was ridiculously expensive and I soon discovered that it would be cheaper for both of us to fly there, pick up the bags, satisfy our craving for Thai food and fly back again.
So the plan was hatched to catch the night time flight to Bangkok, arrive in the morning, pick up the bags, spend the day roaming Bangkok, stuff ourselves with every eatable we could find, and fly back in the evening.

But then I thought, why rush back? I had some hotel loyalty points so I booked us in to the Intercontinental for a free night (35,000 points) and off we went.
Normally when we go to Thailand we stay in pretty inexpensive hotels as you can get a nice clean place for not too much money. Although when we stayed for 3 months we were lucky that it coincided with a  Grand Mercure  50% off flash sale and we managed to get a serviced apartment for that period at a ridiculously cheap rate.
This would be the first time in a luxury hotel in Bangkok so I was pretty excited. I was feeling very proud of myself that we were staying for a night for free until I heard the young Arab gentleman beside me booking himself into a suite for 6 nights!
We arrived early morning so we were lucky a room was available and the check-in staff also upgraded us to the executive rooms. One look at the massive room they had given us on the 29th floor and Executive room at Intercontinental Bangkokwe decided to book another night!Executive room at Intercontinental Bangkok
I cannot recommend the Intercontinental highly enough. The staff are superb, the rooms are wonderful, and the location is excellent, right next to the Chidlom Sky Train Station, and walking distance to the major malls.
The executive rooms come with access to the lounge on the top floor. This is normally included in the price of the room but as we were staying free, we would have to pay extra. At first we wondered if it was worth it at THB1500 per person, but discovered it included breakfast, afternoon tea, and happy hour so decided to splurge. Reading the instructions and noting that a smart standard of dress is required; we dressed carefully and arrived for breakfast. The first person we saw was eating breakfast in her pajamas, and then we saw two other westerners, in un-ironed clothes and running shoes, their hair in the same shape it was when it was crushed against their pillows 15 minutes earlier!

View from the Intercontinental Bangkok
The views at breakfast were stunning. The lounge is on the 37th floor and there are no tall buildings around so one is afforded panoramic views of the city.
Breakfast was good, afternoon tea was ok, but the real value comes at happy hour. Unlimited drinks and snacks from 5.30pm til 8pm! I discovered they had a lovely New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and then sat back watching the sunset and ensured the New Zealand wine industry would not be going out of business any time soon. The Boss sipped on her fancy umbrella-adorned mocktail and filled up on satay and chicken samosas.
Thirst quenched and Tommy’s voracious appetite temporarily quelled, we entered the lift. A Singaporean guest stood inside and was staring at me intently. Assuming he was admiring my ravishing movie star good looks, I was disappointed to hear him say after about 30 secs of scrutiny “I thought you were Edward Snowden and I wondered how you had got here from Russia!”

Now you have to make me happy!

Bangalore Airport

Pic Credit markhillary

I am heading to the airport later today.
The last time The Boss and I flew out of Bangalore we had an experience which I still, many months later, find hard to believe that it actually happened.
We were headed to Thailand on a planned relocation to Bangkok and we had quite a lot of luggage. In fact we exceeded the allowable weight limit quite significantly, a fact which was soon brought to our attention by the Air India ground staff.
Having never paid for excess baggage in the past and not planning to start now we appealed to his better nature and explained that we were moving country and could he please understand. We also threw in a promise never to do it again.
For a while he looked doubtful but eventually succumbed to our angelic smiles and said ok he would let us off as long as we didn’t do it again, and said he would see us inside before boarding. Collecting our boarding passes and saying a prayer of thanks to the God of Air Travel, we walked off saying how lucky we were to find such a nice check-in staff.
We whiled away the next hour and a half at the gate, and just before boarding, the same Air India staff approached me and asked me to accompany him to the counter and to please bring my passport. Thinking that there were some final formalities to attend to, I happily followed him to the counter where he was now standing along with 3 of his colleagues.

Taking my passport he started copying down the details onto a scrap of paper. Looking up at me he said, “your luggage was X kilos over the allowable limit and I have made it under the limit so you won’t have any trouble from now on.”
“Thank you very much” I replied with a smile.
“ But now you have to make me happy” he said.
“I am sorry, what did you say?” I asked
“You have to make me happy”
Being the naive innocent young country boy that I am, I had no idea what he was talking about.
“I don’t understand what you mean” I said.
“I have reduced your weight amount and now it is your turn to make me happy”
Being a bit slow on the uptake and not for a minute thinking anything nefarious was afoot in full view of his colleagues and a plane load of passengers, I asked “what do you want me to do? Should I write you a thank you letter?”
“No, no. Please make me happy” came the reply.
“I am sorry I really have no idea what you are talking about”
Deciding that subtlety was obviously not working on the unsophisticated traveler before him, he said “you have to pay me 4000 Rupees”
Realisation finally dawned upon me and luckily my brain-cells belatedly kicked in. “Oh I see”
Simultaneously contemplating expressing my indignation in the loudest possible terms and also thinking that I had no desire to be hassled about my luggage just before departure, I decided on the simplest course of action. “I don’t have that much money on me” I said.
“How much do you have?” came the prompt reply.
Taking out my wallet and angling it so that he couldn’t see in, I told him that I had 1000 rupees on me.
“Give me that”
I handed it over and folding it he put it into his shirt pocket, his three colleagues looking on.
“Have a nice flight” he wished me and handed back my passport.
Wishing I had told him I only had 500 Rupees on me and still stunned at this blatant display of corruption, I walked back to where The Boss was sitting.
“You would not believe what just happened!”