12/04/2005 - 22:00

Thais have something to celebrate

12/04/2005 - 22:00

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Food is often a first reference point for many when it comes to gaining experiences of other cultures.

Thais have something to celebrate

Food is often a first reference point for many when it comes to gaining experiences of other cultures.

Food is an expression of one’s background. It can transcend ethnic barriers and cut a swath through social and political differences.

Food is not just about nourishment. It is considered a foundation of economies and a tool through which we can examine our lives. As renowned gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote, “Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you who you are”.

This month, millions of Thais worldwide are celebrating Thai New Year, and for those whose business it is to provide Thai food to Western Australia, the culturally unique annual event is an important period.

Known as Songkran, April 13 marks Thai New Year, one of the most important events for the Thai people. Celebrations last all month, blending Buddhism and astrology with the solar calendar.

This ‘festival of water’ symbolises renewal, a process of cleansing oneself of the sorrows of the previous year.

Food plays a major part during Songkran, so much so that chef de cuisine Adam Chan of Joe’s Oriental Diner in the Hyatt Hotel, commissioned Thai native Jeerapa (Gaye) to create a special menu showcasing the uniqueness of Thailand’s cuisine. As a native of Chiang Mai in Thailand’s north, Gaye is adept at highlighting the individuality of Thai food.

Gaye says the secret to Thai food is the freshness of quality traditional ingredients. “Thai food is very fragrant and flavoursome,” she says. “All of the produce must be fresh. This is important to Thai food because it helps to cleanse the body, just as the water ceremony does”.

Chef Chan says it is very important to have Gaye in charge of the menu.

“Every country has a different way of expressing their food. The Thai way is hot and spicy,” he says.

Gaye helped create a menu featuring dishes such as Royal Thai chicken curry, tom kah kai and bean thread salad.

While Thai-Western fusion restaurants are currently in vogue, the Thailand Government is doing its bit for authentic Thai cuisine, commissioning a worldwide survey of Thai restaurants and reporting that there are 10 ‘signature’ Thai dishes.

Among these are fish cakes, satay, tom yum soup and pad Thai.

Somkiat (Som) Chanlong-sirichani, owner and proprietor of Dusit Thai Restaurant, has every single one of these dishes on his menu and aims to present the hallmarks of Thailand’s food and hospitality as accurately as possible.

For more than 17 years Som’s dedication to preserving the unique qualities of Thailand’s culinary culture has earned him the highest honours in Australian catering circles.

Dusit won the Gold Plate Award in 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2001, followed by the prestigious Prix d’Honneur credit. The restaurant is an American Express Hall of Fame recipient for 2003, 2004 and 2005.

Most significantly, however, Dusit is one of only two Australian restaurants, and the only one in WA, to receive the Shell Chun Chim International Award in recognition of excellence in the service of Thai cuisine.

“Our tradition comes through in our food. It is handed down from generation to generation. Our food is uniquely ours; it has not been influenced by other cultures over time,” Som says.

He says quality and freshness of ingredients ultimately separates his country’s food from other cuisine.

“But Thai food is not just about the menu. You can’t just take from the customer, you must give as well. When you walk into my restaurant, you feel like you are in Thailand.”

While for many, Thai New Year it is a time for reflection, for others it is a time to rejoice in the unique richness of one of the world’s must enduring cultures.

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