Songkran and Tom Yum
Last Bite/Ravi V.Chhabra
A few years ago, New Delhi boasted of at least one exclusive and authentic Thai cuisine specialty restaurant. It was perfect in every manner from decor to the seating arrangement and of course an elaborate menu. Food critics would well be reminiscing Ban Thai at the Oberoi Intercontinental. One wonders why it shut shop intermittently.
Fortunately, Shangri La's 19 Oriental Avenue has come as a savior for Delhi's Thai food seekers. The charming waitress ushered me to the huge dining table laid before the open-air modular kitchen.It was an invitation to savour authentic Thai festive delicacies on the occasion of Songkran, the Thai traditional New Year at Shangri La hotel, New Delhi. Maha Songkran is celebrated on the 13 th of April every year and the revelry lasts for three days.
The entrance of 19 Oriental Avenue, Shangri La's abode of oriental food is artistically done up with the oblong bronze statue of Buddha's showcased in a glass chamber that looks dramatic in alternating blue green hue. The grand lunch began with Thai shrimp salad with rice noodles served in aesthetic rose wood bowls followed by delectable chicken satey with Thai herbs.
Chef Yonghyos Chimthep from Bangkok apprised us of the New Year celebrations back in Thailand. The houses, temples, public places and official buildings are cleaned before Songkran and the first day of the new year begins with offering alms to monks, Dhamma Practice, listening to sermons and monks-bathing followed by a succulent traditional Thai meal enjoyed with the family. Songkran is also called the 'Water Festival', as water is believed to wash away all the bad luck.
The family members gather to express their gratitude to the elders by pouring scented water onto the hands of the parents and grandparents and exchange gifts. But, food most definitely forms the order of the day. Traditional Thai preparations like pork sausages from northern Thailand, served with peanuts and sliced ginger called Sai Gork Isaan and Yum Goong made of Tiger prawns, salad leaves and herbs combined with a spicy dressing of lemon juice, chillies and fresh coriander with Steamed Thai fragrant rice amongst others are commonly relished.
The air at the venue was perfumed with the whiff of herbs as the all-time favourite spicy prawn soup (Tom Yum) with genuine Thai herbs was next before us. The clear soup with a huge singular floating prawn tasted heavenly and most of us enjoyed it. Chef Yonghyos told us about his long stint with the Shangri La group of hotels across the world. The food, no wonder, spoke a great deal about his mastery in cooking it the professional way!
The people of Thailand on this day perform a bathing rite for Buddha images and the monks, after which the celebrants joyfully splash water on each other (something akin to the Indians' Holi minus the colors). However, the most opulent celebrations are hosted in the northern province of Chiang Mai. People from all parts of Thailand congregate to rejoice the water festival and watch Miss Songkran Contest and the beautiful parades. Meanwhile, our gossiping across the table came to a halt as Duck Curry with Pineapple and crab was served on the platter, with Chicken fried rice with chilly paste.
The Duck Curry was impeccably garnished with fresh pineapples and luscious red chillies and tasted yummy. The rice preparation was followed by stir fried chicken and shrimps. Chicken fried rice and duck curry did a few more rounds before the main course ended. Songkran's festive menu was indeed interesting.