Tucked in a room at the Dusit Hotel’s exquisite Thai Restaurant Benjarong were my fellow food lovers, led by veteran food journalist Micky Fenix, Spanky Enriquez, Anton Diaz, Pepper Teehankee and Philip Cu-unjieng. What a privilege it was to dine in their company and to be served a meal, especially one prepared by Benjarong’s chef Watcharaphon Yongbanthom.
It was fun catching up after all these years. Even more enjoyable was comparing notes as to which dish we liked best and dissecting each and every item served. It was a thrill to break down each picture-perfect creation. The luncheon was held to celebrate the eight restaurants bestowed with the prestigious Thai Select award in the Philippines.
Thai Select is a mark of certification awarded by the Royal Thai Government’s Ministry of Commerce to guarantee the authentic taste of Thai food products and Thai restaurants in Thailand and overseas.
The Philippine restaurants given recognition are Azuthai, Thai BBQ, Samyan, Nara Thai, Greyhound Cafe, Mor Thai, Mango Tree and Benjarong. Our meal at Benjarong was an interesting mix of dishes that showcased the best of Thailand on a plate, as authentically expressed by the restaurant’s chef.
For starters we had Pla Samun Prai, fresh salmon with tom yum-spiced mayonnaise, encased in a rice paper tube. It was eaten wrapped in a betel leaf. I liked this dish because it was herbaceous and complex.
My favorite dish was Sai Oua, northern Thai sausage served with sticky rice cooked in coconut milk with crisp crackling pork skin. The sausage was smokey, flavorful and aromatic. The elements of the dish are best enjoyed together in one perfect bite.
Yum Sum O was third on the menu. It’s a rice paper cup filled with shrimp, roasted coconuts, coriander, chili, pomelo and cashews. It is enjoyed with a side of pomelo sherbet in a lime shell.
We swiftly moved to the hearty Khao Griep Pu Ma Prao On, a delectable blue pea-colored dumpling stuffed with shrimp and crab meat, swimming in lemongrass-perfumed tom yum broth and served in young coconut bowls.
Sinfully good curry
Then came the lamb chops in a sinfully good red curry sauce. It was simply divine. It was served with rice noodles that had also been tossed in red curry. I loved this dish!
The Khao Phad Tom Yum was the most comforting dish of all. It was a perfectly cooked prawn, slathered in delicious chili paste, with a side of tom yum fried rice.
Desserts were Ka Nom Tom, a glutinous rice ball with essence of pandan and palm sugar centers then rolled in grated coconut, and the I-Tim Durian Thed, which was my absolute favorite. Its house-made soursop ice cream wrapped in a coconut jelly sheet is served with fresh mangoes and caramel popcorn. The ice cream was delightful and, surprisingly, the popcorn served alongside it worked.
Chef Watcharaphon Yongbanthom, known as Chef Ja, delighted us not just with the flavors of Thailand but also with her culinary prowess that makes Benjarong the best Royal Thai-inspired restaurant in the country.
Chef Ja shared her Khao Phad Tom Yum (prawn, tom yum spice, nuts, jasmine rice) recipe.
Chef Ja’s Khao Phad Tom Yum
180 g (1 piece) prawn
3 Tbsp chili paste in oil
1 c cooked jasmine rice
1 tsp kaffir lime leaf, sliced
½ Tbsp coriander, chopped
½ Tbsp garlic, chopped
½ Tbsp chili, chopped
½ Tbsp galangal, chopped
½ Tbsp lemongrass, chopped
1 Tbsp red onion, chopped
1 Tbsp straw mushroom, chopped
1 pinch salt
1 pinch pepper
½ Tbsp sugar
½ Tbsp fish sauce
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp oil
2 Tbsp chicken stock
1 Tbsp lime juice
Cut the prawn ¾ inch deep along the center of the body. Remove the black vein.
Brush 1 Tbsp of chili paste in oil on the prawn and set aside.
Preheat the wok before adding the oil, garlic, coriander, red onion, chili, galangal, lemongrass, straw mushroom, chili paste in oil and kaffir lime leaves. Keep stirring.
Season with sugar, fish sauce, soy sauce, salt and pepper, and then add chicken stock.
Add jasmine rice, stirring continuously until mixed well. Add lime juice.
Turn off the heat and transfer to the plate.
Grill the prawn and set on the side of the rice. INQ
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