A bit of Thailand in Kerala- The New Indian Express

express news service

KOCHI: Lately, Thai cuisine has been making waves in the state. Although it has many familiar Kerala ingredients such as coconut and shellfish, it remains different due to the elaborate use of fresh herbs, sauces and spices. Chef Vina came to the state straight from Thailand with her home country’s signature dish, Pad Thai noodles, featuring a delicate balance of spices, sweet, salty and sour flavors, and many traditional and authentic dishes.

The Thai national, who has three decades of experience in the culinary arts, is an expert in preparing home-style Thai meals. TNIE catches up with the featured chef attending the ongoing Thai food festival at the Thiruvananthapuram-based hotel, O by Tamara.

Chef Vina has worked in restaurants around the world, from the Maldives, Hong Kong and Sri Lanka to Turkey, South Korea and South Africa, as well as her hometown of Bangkok. She always tries to understand the tastes of her clients and receive comments about the kitchen.

“Sa-wad-dee-ka… (Thai salute to women),” she says, pulling up a chair to sit down to chat over Thai coconut soup, Tom Kha Gai. The soup is comforting to savor, especially during the rainy season, says Vina. The silky soup has mushrooms in creamy coconut milk and has been flavored with lemongrass, ginger and many more herbs. “Many Thai cuisines use ingredients similar to those in Kerala households, such as jackfruit, my favourite, tamarind, ginger, pepper, chillies, lemon, etc.

The Tom Kha Gai is rich in galangal (Thai ginger), lemongrass, garlic, bird’s eye chili, kaffir lime leaves which add a combined aroma of sweetness and spiciness. It is highly nutritious and can also soothe the gastrointestinal tract,” says Vina. The chef is happy here in Kerala, which she says has some similarities with Thailand, especially when it comes to tropical fruits and weather.

“It is my pleasure to bring my food to Kerala. I firmly believe that food is not only for the body, it is also for the soul. I hope my food brings this to my diners here. Thai red fish curry also uses coconut like Kerala coconut fish curry. But we use coconut milk as a base for the fish curry,” says Vina.

He sticks with the authentic dishes and doesn’t like fusion experiments. Vina has introduced a line of Thai cuisine with ingredients that are not new to Malayalis. The welcome drink served at the food festival, Luk Tan Loikabo, was basically jackfruit juice infused with jaggery and toddy palm seeds. It is a refreshing drink served in Thailand for guests.

“Authentic Thai food consists mainly of rice with various dishes that form a harmonious contrast of flavors and consistencies. I noticed that rice is also enjoyed here with the side dishes. In Thai food, the vegetables are not fully cooked. That is why Thai home cooking is very nutritious,” she says. According to the chef, a passion for rare ingredients, authentic preparation tools and care in selecting seasonal vegetables are what nurture her culinary skills.

Vina is also in love with Kerala dishes and what appeals to her taste buds is lamb curry. “I am in love with the lamb curry. I would love to eat it for breakfast and lunch with appam or white rice. My breakfast consisted of cooked rice and lamb curry. Also, in Thai cooking, there is no middle spice or sweetness like here. We continue extreme spicy and sweetness. Thanks to my Malayali diners, I have now learned how to serve medium flavors too,” she laughs.

Chef Vina’s signature dishes include the classic Phad Thai (a typical Thai stir-fried rice noodle dish), Pad See Ew (a soy-based flat rice noodle stir fry) and Larb Gai (a spicy fried chicken salad Thai). Sticking to traditional recipes, he also presented some healthy options.

“There are many who prefer diet foods. Salads are a good option for them. I suggest the Raw Mango Papaya Salad for them. Salads are a healthy option for kids too,” she says.

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