Cuisine focus: Thai

Caterer investigates the popularity of Thai cuisine across the region

Top chefs believe that Thai cuisine is becoming increasingly popular among other nationalities.
Top chefs believe that Thai cuisine is becoming increasingly popular among other nationalities.

Meet the Experts

Sawai Krasian
Chef de cuisine, Blue Rain, The Ritz-Carlton DIFC

Yongyos Chimthep
Chef de cuisine, Benjarong, Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi

Toshikazu Kato
Chef de cuisine, Nusantao: Sea Kitchens, Four Seasons Hotel Doha

Chaiwat Kawikitpraphat
Head chef, Thiptara, The Palace Downtown Dubai

Pawichada Phakhot
Thai specialty chef, JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai

How popular is Thai food in this region?
Sawai Krasian, Chef de cuisine, Blue Rain, The Ritz-Carlton DIFC: Thai food is absolutely growing in popularity, especially well done, authentically prepared Thai food. Twenty years ago, Thai food was a niche market in the region, perceived by many as too spicy for anyone but Thais themselves.

Pawichada Phakhot, Thai specialty chef, JW Marriott Marquis Hotel Dubai: Thai food is very popular in the Middle East; now you can find a Thai restaurant in most of the hotels.

Toshikazu Kato, Chef de cuisine, Nusantao: Sea Kitchens, Four Seasons Hotel Doha: Thai food is quite popular not only with Asian expats, but individuals from all nationalities, including Arabs. I personally think Thai cuisine is suitable for hot climates, because of the way it is cooked and its ingredients.

Is Thai cuisine here as authentic as it gets?
TK: Yes, most of the restaurants in Doha have very good Thai chefs hailing from Thailand, so they serve authentic food. There are naturally some challenges involved in obtaining a regular supply of Thai ingredients such as fresh vegetables, Thai herbs, sauces and so on.

SK: Dubai’s Thai food offerings are good overall, but we feel that it is essential to use authentic Thai ingredients in the food. There are various types of ginger, and palm sugar and fish sauce only made in Thailand. Like any type of cuisine, there is no real substitute for authentic ingredients; the end product suffers when the ingredients are compromised.

What is the competition like between outlets serving Thai food?
Chaiwat Kawikitpraphat, Head chef, Thiptara, The Palace Downtown Dubai: Dubai’s culinary landscape is extremely competitive; everywhere you look, there are new restaurants, chains and global brands that are establishing their regional presence within the emirate, turning the heat up on existing outlets.

Yongyos Chimthep, Chef de cuisine, Benjarong, Dusit Thani Abu Dhabi: Naturally every restaurant strives to produce the best and most authentic food possible and we know diners who enjoy Thai cuisine will naturally try different restaurants to find what their preference is.

SK: Dubai has a dynamic food scene, so there is always plenty of competition with any type of cuisine. For a Thai experience in Dubai, there are certainly many options, as Thai restaurants become more prevalent each year.

TK: I believe there is healthy competition. What I also believe makes a difference in popularity is whether the outlet serves only Thai food or a variety of Asian cuisines. Thai menus generally offer a very good variety, but a lot of the Pan-Asian restaurants are more popular and well known in the city of Doha.

PP: There is very good competition especially in Dubai. Many restaurants are also coming up with different concepts such as bringing food from different regions of Thailand, so even Thai cuisine food served in the region will be different.

What does it take for a Thai restaurant to succeed?
TK: The quality and flavour of the food continues to dominate. If the food tastes like what one would find in Thailand and the ingredients used are authentic, diners are pleased. The atmosphere and ambience is also important.

SK: First and foremost, you need a Thai chef who is passionate about introducing his native flavours to guests. Second, the starting product should be fresh and as authentic as possible. If the ingredients are high quality, great food will follow. Finally, service is always important.

YC: Whenever you interact with a guest it is an emotional transaction and we have to ensure that we deliver their expectations, which means making sure that from the moment they enter the restaurant to taking the order to the food being served, their expectations are exceeded. In short it is all about striving to be the best. If we did not, we would not be true to our diners.

PP: We have to provide what people like and bring something original. To be successful in Thai food the main focus should be the taste — making food according to the original recipes is very important. It is also important to stay consistent.

What is the supply stream like?
YC: In general, the supply chain is very good and we are able to get most mainstream and key products easily. There are a few items not available but we have been able to substitute these locally.

PP: It can be a challenge getting ingredients here, but now that this cuisine is spreading, I find all the suppliers are up to the task and can bring almost all the items we need.
TK: Most ingredients are available in the city, but perishable items are still difficult to get on a daily basis.

CK: The supply stream is organised and effective, which is essential in attaining any of the goals we set.

SK: The produce used in Blue Rain is from Thailand, purchased through Thai-speaking suppliers. We’re fortunate that the product is always consistent and dependable.

What challenges do Thai restaurants and chefs face?
SK: Our biggest challenge is keeping the food authentic while the number of Thai restaurants in Dubai continues to grow. We insist upon always using truly real Thai ingredients, and sometimes we go to great lengths to get the authentic product into our kitchen. There is always temptation to minimise cost with less expensive and more accessible ingredients, but because we place such a high value on authenticity, the result of our efforts is extremely high quality, genuine Thai cuisine.

PP: Dubai is a multicultural country with different nationalities and different taste, so many times I have to change the ingredients from the recipe according to what the guests like, but it will be not authentic Thai food which I would love to serve our customers. Another challenge is the level of spices in food; sometimes it’s difficult to understand the level of spice that guests can have.

TK: As you know some Thai foods are really spicy. Guests who have never tried Thai food before tend to be surprised with the amount of spiciness in the food.

What does the future look like for Thai cuisine?
TK: Thai cuisine is high in fresh ingredients, very vegetarian-friendly and quick and easy to prepare. It’s already very popular and I see it going even more main-stream in the future.

CK: Thai cuisine is timeless; regardless of the culinary trends that come and go, the classics will continue to hold their place in the global line-up, which is an extremely positive factor when it comes to Thai food. The future is looking very healthy because it is all about the flavours of fresh food and herbs.

PP: Thai food is getting very popular here and very interesting. The food is created in many different varieties and can suit people with different tastes. So I think Thai food is going to be even more famous all around the world in the near future.

SK: Thai cuisine is becoming increasingly popular around the globe. Celebrity chefs have brought it to the forefront of people’s consciousness, and I believe it will continue to grow in the future. People are becoming educated about Thai food and are seeking out really great, high quality Thai cuisine.

YC: Thai cuisine has a very bright future. Every year it becomes more and more popular with much of this coming down to the use of simple ingredients, which produce complex dishes that have universal appeal. I fully believe that Thai food is on a good track to rival Indian and Italian on the global restaurant stage.

Som Tam Malakor
Nusantao at The Four Seasons Hotel Doha’s chef Toshikazu Kato shares his favourite recipe for green papaya salad with dried shrimp and peanuts

Ingredients:
- 120g green papaya
- 30g long bean
- 30g tomato
- 10g garlic
- 10g bird chilli
- 20g dried shrimp
- 20g peanuts

INGREDIENTS FOR DRESSING:
- 30g lime juice
- 30g fish sauce
- 10g palm sugar
- 20g tamarind juice

METHOD FOR SALAD:
Thinly shred the unripe green papaya. In brick mortar and pestle, add garlic, chilli, long bean, dried shrimp and roasted peanut. Gently pound a few times.
Then add shredded papaya and tomato. Mix all ingredients together with dressing and toss well.

METHOD FOR DRESSING:
In a dressing bowl, add pounded chillies, fish sauce, lime juice, palm sugar and tamarind juice. Stir well.

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