Memorable Oriental Sojourn
By Ravi V.Chhabra
The 19-Oriental Avenue at the Shangri-la's Eros Hotel has been my favourite far-east Asian cuisine specialty restaurant for a couple of years now. From its open kitchen, sushi bar and the diversified menus in the Japanese, Chinese and Thai sections to the demure decor and suave presentation of dishes and extremely courteous service, the experience has always overwhelmed me.
This was the second time in 4-years that I went for the Songkran food festival at the 19OE. Coinciding with the Thai New Year’s Day Festival of Songkran (13th to 15th April), 19 Oriental Avenue at Shangri-La’s Eros Hotel had come up with their own Thai promotion, crafted by Chef Suksamai from Thailand. The festival was supervised by sous chef Jitender Chauhan, whose specialty is Japanese cuisine and who has previously worked at the Oberoi, New Delhi, Intercontinental, Mumbai and JW Marriott, Mumbai.
Songkran is derived from the Sanskrit word sankranti, in Thai that means the entry of the sun into any sign of the Zodiac. But the Songkran in this particular instance is when the sun enters the sign of Aries or the Ram. Its full name is Maha Songkran or Major Songkran to distinguish it from the other ones. But the people call it simply the Songkran for it is the only one they know and in which they take interest. It is their traditional New Year when they can enjoy their holidays to the full with no economic hindrance. Songkran is a fixable feast on the solar calendar. Among all the feasts and festivals in Thailand, which are many, the Songkran Festival is the most striking, for it is widely observed not only in this country but also in Burma, Cambodia and the Lao State.
The sumptuous dinner at the 19 Oriental Avenue began with a bouchee of Chinese seasonal vegetables and cumin scented lamb, followed by an aromatic Tom Yum Kai, a chicken version of the Tom Yum Goong, the prawn version on the menu. Being mildly spiced and full of flavor from the galangal, kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass within, this is a wonderful starter for a light summer supper. Yum Gai Yang came next, a salad of raw mangoes with diced and wok tossed chicken breast, beautifully presented in a scooped pineapple shell. The main courses started with a light, vegetarian dish – Ka Na Pad Nham Mun Hoi or stir fried kailan stalks with oyster sauce. Profoundly crunchy kailan, with fat and juicy shiitake mushrooms mildly coated in a subtle sauce that made a great starter for me.
The next dish placed graciously by sous chef Chauhan on my table was the Tow Hu Prik Keang , grilled tofu with chilly, followed by the final dish Pha Thod Kachai curry or simmered red curry with sea bass and ginger. It seemed a beautifully styled pile of crispy fried chunks of sea-bass fillet, mildly ginger flavoured and crisp that was slightly dry on the inside; the fish made for happy eating. The golden fried prawns stole the show and I couldn’t help requesting a repeat! It is worth mentioning that each dish, be it the chicken salad that was elegantly cased inside the pineapple shell or the prawn soup (tom yum) that was served inside the dried coconut shell was 'dressed up’ so aesthetically that it completely aroused my gastronomic senses.
The dessert was innovative to the core - Kow Ka Ya Kul made with thickened pandan juice and sugar topped with coconut cream and strips of tender coconut that was served warm. It had a hint of sweet, ‘leafy green’ in looks and the mildly nutty shreds of coconut inside gave it a unique texture. Indeed, this was a befitting finale to the memorable Songkran feast in every way.