Lanna Food Festival @ Benjarong

You know? India is not the only country which has North, South, East, West, Centre etc! I sort of knew, but didn't think it affected food as much as it did in India. I mean, how different is North French Cuisine from South French cuisine? I don't really know. I know that North Indian and South Indian cuisines are almost two different continents. An evening with Chef Ram at the Benjarong and I was given (another) culinary tour of North Thailand! And that is a cuisine that doesn't have my favourite Thai Red curry. No Thai Green Curry or Yellow Curry either! As I found out later, absolutely no coconut paste!

Very few stand alone restaurants have a super consistently good food and Benjarong, as you might agree, is one among them. However, the food festivals that happen at Benjarong take it a notch up and yesterday, I realised why! The chef takes almost a year to prepare for it and in the process he laps up a huge chunk of knowledge about the culture too! I am now reasonably sure that he can give a Thai, stiff competition in all ways!

Dinner started off with an entirely new take on coffee! It was prepared right on the table. Filter paper, coffee, hot water and it dripped onto, hold your breath, condensed milk! It was then poured onto crushed ice to give a very moderately strong coffee with no sugar, but sweet because of the condensed milk! Oh so nice! While we were admiring it, the Chicken Satay arrived! It did not have the familiar flavours and did not even have a whiff of peanut! Taste, though was awesome and all six skewers disappeared! Next round was the leaf folded prawns, but unlike the usual chicken that I get here, these flavours were completely different. And just as awesome too! The fish was similar to the prawns in colour and prep, but tasted different!

While we waited for the soup and salad to arrive, Chef Ram gave me a tutorial on Thai herbs. We spoke about Galangal. He gave me one to taste. It was a mix of Ginger and Turmeric! The soup was an awesome exotic rasam! It had a nice white fish, grilled eggplant, oyster mushrooms and herbs. After I learnt a great lesson on eating Thai soup from a very senior Thai lady chef, I always ask for sticky rice to go with the soup. Try it, next time, you won't regret it. The soup was made to be eaten like that!

Another round of chatter and this time the travel tales moved from Thailand to Calcutta and we spoke of the similarities and differences between Indian and Thai cuisines! The restaurant was packed and the main courses took a while to arrive, but when they did, they did in style. An outstanding Thai Lamb curry which went very well with the white rice, followed by my favourite, the Thai flat noodles, which had both crisp and soft noodles in it! Loved it! It nudged out my next favourite, a superb salted lamb fried rice (which the chef agreed was the Thai way of eating Uppu Kari). Loved that too.

I was too stuffed for dessert, but when the sweetened sticky rice with longans arrived, how can you say no!?! Longans look like lychees, but are not! It was so nice and I was so rude that only after I finished the whole thing, did I realise that I did not offer even one spoon to the chef!

The festival is on till the 8th of Feb.