Like any other Asian country where cuisine is highly dictated by region, and authenticity depends on which family it was passed down from, Thai food has also opened up to interpretation in recent years, especially now that it has become familiar fare, even in Western countries.
However, not all Thai restaurants are created equal. Dusit Thani Manila’s Benjarong restaurant separates itself from the others by preparing Royal Thai Cuisine, wherein food is authentic, beautifully crafted and delicious.
There has been some argument on whether or not the Thai royals do eat food that’s profoundly different from what the masses have. But there are significant differences in the way “royal” food is prepared.
First of all, Thai food is a harmony of five flavors—salty, sweet, bitter, sour and spicy. In preparing Royal Thai cuisine, it is imperative that the flavors are perfectly married, so one does not overpower any of the others.
Also, in terms of preparation, Royal Thai cuisine ensures that all meat and fish contain no bones when served, and fruits are also pitted, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces. In other words, food must be perfect both in looks and in taste.
So, while Royal Thai cuisine may not be “different” from what an average Thai might eat, it’s the preparation and quality that differentiates it.
Benjarong’s head chef, Patcharaporn Noinak, also known as Khun Tun, has been running the kitchen for nine years. Her last holiday was way back in 2006 when the restaurant underwent renovated. Her dedication and attention to detail ensures that the quality and taste of the dishes is the same every single time you visit.
Benjarong offers a wide variety of starters, soups, salads, mains, noodles and desserts. Start with the Tord Man Gung or deep-fried shrimp cakes. It seems simple enough, but this version comes stuffed with shrimp and no extenders. It’s crispy on the outside and perfectly juicy on the inside—good even without the sweet-chili sauce it is paired with.
Don’t skip the Tom Kha Gai, a coconut and galangal-based chicken soup that will warm the tummy and make your palate happy. Many times I’ve had Tom Kha Gai and felt as if there was something missing, or I’ve had to ask for lime to add to my soup. This one, however, has the right amount of tanginess to offset the ginger and creamy coconut milk.
The crispy kangkong salad or Yam Phad Bung Kaew is a welcome alternative to the usual catfish salad. It has the usual green mango, onions, chili and coriander, but instead of crispy fish, you will find battered, fried kangkong leaves and prawns as topping.
The big surprise for me is the Yam Moo Yang Angun, or grilled pork and grape salad. An unlikely combination, but one bite will have you craving for more.
Another new favorite is the Khao Soi, crispy egg noodles served with a curry coconut-based broth, chili, lime and onions. The taste is exotic for the Filipino palate, but pleasantly comforting and familiar at the same time. I’m hoping to go back to Benjarong and eat an order all by myself.
The Pad Thai Gung Sod, in other places sometimes so haphazardly put together and passed off as the real thing, is here complex and full of flavors from the different ingredients. Also, the roasted duck in red curry, or Gaeng Phed Pet Yang, is tender, tasty and perfect with piping hot Jasmine rice.
The only thing I would skip is the Gai Tord Khamin, unless you are very hungry and want to add another dish to your order. The flavor is good, but very mild and definitely is no competition to all the other items already mentioned.
For dessert, go with the Tub Tim Krob, a shaved ice and coconut milk combo that’s a bit like our Filipino halo-halo, but with jellied turnips and syrup. It’s refreshing, sweet but not overly saccharine, and crunchy from the bits of turnip.
Benjarong offers new menu items to complement its existing bestsellers. It is open daily for lunch and dinner, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 6-10 p.m. Call 2388888.