My blog is called All Things Sicilian And More, but how about if the ‘more’ is Thai, and not in Sicily or Australia, but in London.
My friend who is living in London for a while seems to be eating her way around the city. Last week she went to Australian chef, David Thompson’s Nahm (the first Michelin-starred Thai restaurant in Europe).
This is the email she sent me:
Really a good meal at Nahm – the food was excellent, very complex flavours and mix of flavours without too much chilli to kill the tastebuds!
He also sticks to Thai style of eating so everything gets served at once with rice – we had a double boiled ox tail soup with really sweet and still quite firm winter melon, Scottish scallop and coconut salad (shaved coconut flesh) as well as a coconut based sauce, crab and pork stir fry with young bamboo (asparagus thickness bamboo) and a red quail curry. Then, a black ash and sticky rice pudding (burnt coconut husk mixed in with rice flour to make thick, thumb length black noodles that were then steamed and served on a bed of shaved coconut flesh). Wonderful combination of sweet and salty flavours and sticky and crunchy textures.
Many years ago I remember first eating in Darley Street Thai, David Thompson’s restaurant in Sydney.
I had already bought his first book, Classic Thai Cuisine, published in 1993 – loved the book, loved the food, loved the experience.
I still have this book and read with interest his introduction to the section called Main Courses. Here he has much to say about the style and combination of flavours, method of cooking and textures of a Thai meal. In this post I am reproducing from the book what he has written under three of the sub-headings: a Thai meal, Salads and Curries. Reading my friend’s description of the meal( above), David Thompson seems to have clearly achieved this.
From the book Classic Thai Cuisine:
A THAI MEAL IS NOT just a combination of textures and flavours within one dish, but a compilation of all the dishes to be served. There should be no duplication or repetition, but a balance. Not every dish should be served hot, nor should there be too many curries. Complex dishes should be accompanied by simpler ones so that the palate is not overwhelmed or cloyed. This is indicative of the manner in which Thais approach their food: different contrasting flavours, combined with variously textured garnishes that are then blended with rice. It is the compilation of so many small but powerfully flavoured dishes that entertain the palate and avoid tedious repetition.
Thai cuisine is a contrast of seasonings: hot, sweet, sour, salty and occasionally bitter flavours combine to achieve rot chart where all flavours are in harmony, and none is unintentionally overwhelming. This is nowhere more apparent than in Thai salads, whether one as elusive and delicate as the Saeng Wa of Prawns or as robust and searing as a Larp from the North‑east.
It is of paramount importance to use the best, freshest ingredients available. Use good‑quality alternatives rather than second‑rate specified ingredients. In Thai salads, the contrasts and interplays of acids and salts would quickly reveal an inferior choice. Having purchased the produce, it is now up to the skill of the cook to treat and season it correctly. This can only be achieved by knowing the individual flavours of the ingredients being used, and the outcome when combining them. Taste the food as it is being assembled and rectify any imbalances before serving.
Curries are the food most associated with Thai cuisine. Originally from southern India, they were cooked in ghee and were heavy with dried spices. The Thais lightened them with the substitution of coconut cream and the addition of fresh spices such as galangal, lemongrass and kaffir lime zest. It is these fresh ingredients that give Thai curries their remarkable character. It is therefore essential to use fresh ingredients wherever possible. Dried or tired ingredients will make for a curry empty in flavour, hollow to taste.’
At first it may not appear that there are very many similarities between Thai and Sicilian food, but there are, and I have highlighted these in the text. The very sound advice also appears to be applicable to any other cuisine if we wish to present a meal which shows respect for the ingredients, is balanced and beautifully and intuitively handled.
This all applies to all Italian cuisine as well.