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The Real Deal – Indian Thai

Will “Indian Thai” be the new “Indian Chinese?” It appears that authentic is what people are looking for when they eat Thai food and fusion with our Desi cuisine is not preferred. A few years ago Thai food was an exotic cuisine found only in one or two restaurants in the entire city; not even five star hotels had Thai items on their menu, let alone dedicated restaurants. Today the scene has changed and there are several Thai restaurants in the city and many Pan Asian style eateries offering superb Thai fare on their menus.Travel to Thailand has become increasingly affordable and through these travels people have developed a taste for Thai food. Also Thai ingredients such as coconut, ginger and plenty of chilies are liked by the Indian palate.

Originally from Bangkok, Symbiosis College student, Joe Khusakul, saw the demand for real Thai food in the city and opened Thai House in Bopodi near the IT Park. The Thai House, he declares is the only authentic Thai restaurant in Pune serving only Thai dishes and sourcing ingredients directly from Thailand.

Aurora Towers is a landmark in the Cantonment area and opened a Pan Asian restaurant 4 years ago. “The Thai dishes on the menu are very popular and usually the demand surpasses the regular Chinese dishes we have on the menu,” says Monish Aurora, Director at the hotel. “We do not need to ‘Indianize’ any Thai dishes as Thai ingredients are easily available in the market today.”

Praful Chandawarkar, owner of Malaka Spice, a Pune landmark serving Southeast Asian food for the past twelve years remarks that there is no such thing as authentic. “Authenticity is not possible with food. I am true and authentic to my cuisine in my restaurant but the ingredients used may not necessarily be the same as in Thailand. For example I grow basil and kaffir lime here on my farm in Pune but the chemical content of the manure is different which also has an impact on the taste,” he affirms.

Like Aurora Towers several other large hotels such as the Marriot, The Royal Orchid, and Radisson all have Thai dishes such as satay and pad thai on their Pan-Asian restaurant’s menu.

Indian Thai has infiltrated the larger more expensive hotels but the roadside Chinese dhabas will not be replaced just yet…there is yet no bargain Thai food available. With the requirement of coconut milk and fresh vegetables comes labour and expense. Vegetables are not finely cut as in Chinese food and therefore the freshness of the vegetable is imperative to a decent Thai dish. For example, brinjals and peppers that are not firm cannot be used). Coconut milk is a staple; scraping coconuts and extracting milk is time consuming.

Canned coconut milk, even at wholesale prices is not economical for a large scale operation offering inexpensive fare. The Thai loving public is also not used to eating their Tom Kha Kai (chicken in coconut soup) or Som Tum(green papaya salad) standing at dhaba or sitting in their car.

However the availability of Thai curry pastes, fish sauce and canned coconut milk make Thai cuisine easy and economical to cook at home. A few vegetables, coconut milk, curry paste and meat is an easy dish to prepare and together with rice it makes a complete nutritious meal. A few improvisations such as using Indian ginger instead of galangal(Thai ginger) and Indian hakka noodles instead of rice noodles are common but all in all Indians enjoy Thai cuisine as it should be….authentically delicious.

Published in Pune Mirror, March 14, 2011

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