Samui Wining & Dining
Fit for a King

Royal Thai cuisine is a treat that even us mere mortals can enjoy.

 

24-25A lot of Westerners bite off a bit more than they can chew with Thai food. And I mean that literally. They take great big mouthfuls of a dish that includes parts that can’t be chewed. Here you should imagine someone accustomed to consuming spoonful after spoonful of a substance that is free from potentially hazardous elements i.e. no bones or shells to cut your gums or chip your teeth on. In fact, the fairly uniform texture of some Western dishes means that, often, it’s not even necessary to look at what you’re eating whilst you’re eating it – we’re talking shepherd’s pie, mac and cheese and that sort of thing. So some people can find it frustrating when confronted with fiddly dishes like in-the-shell crab or a whole steamed fish with bones and all. Even a chicken leg served still on the bone is unfamiliar territory for some folk accustomed to silky, bone-free pieces of breast meat. What, you want me to do all the hard work?

    Thai delicacies are called ‘delicacies’ for a reason. Many require a delicate touch and a patient belly. You have to work for your juicy morsels if you don’t want to choke on a covert clamshell or sneaky snapper bone that has crept its way into your mouth. There’s no mindless chomping here. And lest we anger those refined Western foodies outraged by this somewhat ogre-like stereotype of the average Western diner, let’s be clear that, yes, of course not every Western individual eats in such an impatient fashion, but certainly the very thorough methods of preparation utilised in a lot of Western cooking do allow for such a form of consumption to occur.

      And then you’ve got royal Thai cuisine. It’s a bit like porridge. Not aesthetically of course – aesthetically it’s quite the opposite – but metaphorically. Much like the perfect porridge in the children’s story Goldilocks and the Three Bears, royal Thai cuisine is not too spicy, not too salty and not too sour. Some might say, it’s just right. It’s based on recipes used in the royal Thai household over centuries, and is both artfully constructed and exquisitely presented. Any fruit or vegetable solid enough to be carved undergoes a meticulous surgical process to be transformed into either a delicate vessel to put things in, or an intricate floral-patterned accompaniment to sit prettily on the side of a dish. And the dishes are also prepared in such a way so as to require as little manpower as possible to consume. Royals are very busy people, you see.

 

It’s based on recipes used in the
royal Thai household over centuries,
and is both artfully constructed and
exquisitely presented.

      

In an article for CNNGo, Thai celebrity Chef McDang tells of his gastronomic experiences growing up in a royal household – as you do. “When it comes to serving meat, there are no bones in royal Thai cuisine. Not even in the fish. So when preparing fried mackerel, the royal kitchen staff would first fry the fish, take it out of the hot oil, and then use a small knife to debone it. They would then use a pair of tweezers to painstakingly pick out all the tiny bones from the two fillets. Afterwards, the two pieces would be placed back together to form a whole fish and refried to make them stick together. Lastly, after the fish is taken out of the oil again, its head is attached back onto its body.” So what you’re left with is a fish that looks like it did in the first place, but that is totally free from its offending skeletal structure. In fact, everything with bones, peels or pits is freed of such unsavoury blights to their edibility. This is food that’s actually fit for a king.

       On Samui, royal Thai cuisine can be found at Nora Beach Resort & Spa in Chaweng, at its Prasuthon Restaurant. Ancient royal recipes are used to create what can only be described as culinary masterpieces. And as such, these dishes are, ingredient for ingredient, the same as those that have been enjoyed by the kingly elite of Thailand. Not bad eh? And to ensure that all the ingredients are extra fresh, a lot of the herbs and vegetables are grown in-house, within the lush gardens of the hotel. How very stately indeed.

       Dishes that come under the classification of royal Thai cuisine are not always so different to those that you’d get in a typical Thai restaurant, though. Often, it’s more about the way they’re prepared and presented than about the name of the dish. For example, you can get a tom yum goong and a green chicken curry on a royal Thai menu, but they might be served within, let’s say, an intricate edible display, or prepared using only the freshest, most high-end ingredients. It’s about that heedfulness, Chef McDang says. “Every detail is covered when it comes to the presentation and the appropriate size of each item that is used in royal Thai cookery – masticatory safety, very balanced flavours and aesthetics.” No doubt Goldilocks would approve.

 

Christina Wylie


 


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