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Thinking of Thailand and my trip there a few years back elicits two fond Venn circles of memories with plenty of overlap: the people and the food.
I reminisced about my two-week long trip to the south-eastern kingdom where I was constantly helped by complete strangers and lovingly invited to sample the wonderful array of curries, salads and desserts of Thai cuisine as I drove to the Gulf Hotel Bahrain, Convention & Spa for dinner last Friday evening.
Arriving at the Royal Thai restaurant, I was instantly reminded of Salathip, a wonderful riverside fine dining establishment we had visited in the city of smiles. A warm wai accompanied by sawadee (hello in Thai) greeted us at the door and a familiar face from our previous Typhoon review, restaurant manager Godwin Prabhakaran, led us to our seats.
We walked past the aromas of the Tom Yum soup, our palettes enticed by the basil and lemongrass fragrance of the plethora of curries as my nostalgia kicked into overdrive and I remembered a summer spent with a cup of Thai iced tea in one hand navigating the many Buddha temples of Bangkok.
Almost reading my mind, an iced Thai tea awaited us at our tables which I quickly downed before pulling a David Copperfield saying: “Please sir, can I have some more?”.
The wonderful thing about Thai cuisine is that it is an all-sensory experience. Going beyond its tango with our taste buds and deft manipulation of textures, Thai food is visually appealing with a focus on minimalistic but stimulating presentation, the herbal aromas lovingly embracing one’s nasal tracts and even the sizzling or bubbling that often precedes satays and soups instantly makes one feel at home, no matter where.
The Royal Thai’s Friday buffet, priced at BD15net inclusive of two select beverages, was no exception. We got to “work” immediately, starting with the fresh papaya salad live station, where we ordered a small salad with a side of the famous Thai chilies and peanut sauce.
Then, putting aside our healthy bellies, we ordered a handful of skewers from the satay station, lovingly and freshly prepared for us by the outlet’s head Chef Wasanee Bordeerat.
Chef Wasanee, who started cooking at the age of eight at the behest of her mother, has always connected with people through their bellies. To this day, going back home to Bangkok for her means cooking for her family and her mother, who is now too old to cook regularly, ensuring that they have the freshest food with the finest ingredients. She often reverts to her comfort food, the Tom Yum soup, enjoying its spicy kick and tangy tango, with added prawns or chicken to round off a well-balanced meal in a bowl.
As she told us about her life and culinary experiences, we knew we had to try the Tom Yum soup, which was already seducing us with the scent of cilantro and lemongrass. While satay is a Southeast-Asian delight, Tom Yum soup is a distinctly Thai creation, the name literally translating to the process of its genesis: boiling spicy-sour salad.
The soup was definitely the highlight right away. The sour tones with spicy undertones activated the flavours of the prawn and to borrow from YouTube chef Andrew Rea popularly known as Babish; this soup quickly joined the clean plate club. Twice!
Next up on the appetising accoutrement array, we sampled spring rolls, crispy lemongrass chicken strips and spicy fish cakes. I particularly enjoyed the thin chicken strips, which are soaked overnight in an herbal marinade with a not-so-secret ingredient (hint: it’s not grassy lemons), then coated with panko and fried, like everything worth living for.
As we met the star of the show, the entrée spread, I noticed the small pots and wondered how 45 bellies could be fed by those little beasts. Godwin stepped in to explain: “We prepare everything in small batches so the curries and the meat remain fresh. We replenish as needed but after all, Thai food is all about the freshest and finest ingredients.”
There were curries for every belly from vegetarian green curry to a spiced basil chicken and even some squid for the more adventurous. Accompanying it all was a pot of perfectly cooked jasmine rice.
And finally, every buffet in Bahrain seems to have an obesely obscene amount of dessert. The Royal Thai made sure not to go overboard in this regard. While the Thai dessert with coconut milk, corn and sweetened egg yolk ‘shavings’ were not my piece of cake, I definitely enjoyed the pistachio mini-cake and I can see those with a more classical Thai palette diving into the tapioca and corn pudding.
As we headed out, I knew I had a more recent memory to add to my Thai collection and every time I have a Thai food itch to scratch, I’ll be back for the royal treatment.