It’s remarkable how cuisines, much like cultures, often fall prey to stereotypes which force us to pigeonhole them. For example: Indian food is so much more than parathas and biryani or butter chicken. The variety, richness and depth of different regions often get lost due to the emphasis on just a few items that somehow have gotten popular over the decades, and thus become representative of a cuisine. Similarly, Italian fare has a lot more going for it than just pizza or pasta. It takes a rather discerning foodie to make an attempt to go beyond stereotypes and popular notions, and unearth the real flavors of unheard of dishes.
One cuisine that has definitely suffered because of this tendency to ignore things that are beyond the obvious, is Thai. Think about it – despite the massive impact of Thai food in our lives (I can’t think of a single big city anywhere in the world that doesn’t boast of a Thai restaurant) and the popularity of Thailand as a holiday destination, when it comes to food, only a few names stand out – the ubiquitous Thai red and green curry, pad thai and maybe sticky rice and mango.
Thankfully, the guys at Mango Tree Thai Bistro have other ideas. In a special menu that is on offer only until the end of November, one of Dubai’s best Thai restaurants, now located at Hilton Dubai The Walk (from its earlier address at Souk Al Bahar), has launched the Southern Food Festival: Roi Jung Hoo, a delicious sea-food dominant affair with food from the south of Thailand. And boy, it is so different from the regular one that you will be forced to change your opinion about this cuisine!
First, the story behind it. Roi Jung Hoo is part of a global campaign by the brand to discover roots of Thai culinary culture. Apparently, in June this year, the CEO Trevor MacKenzie travelled with his head chefs from 13 countries to Southern Thailand, to learn from the local communities, farmers and fishermen about cooking food the sustainable way, using local products. This was then translated on to their menus in various cities and what you see are a result of that research - a spicy Lump Crab Southern Curry, Mud Rice With Seafood, made with squid ink, Deep Fried Turmeric Fish with a fresh chilli dipping sauce, Spicy & Sour Curried Fish, made with shrimp paste, a delicious Palm Sugar Cheesecake with Coconut to finish off with etc! So does it work? In a nutshell, it depends on your tolerance to spice levels. As an Indian, I felt I had a fairly high acceptance of chillies and robust flavors but this menu requires a fire engine! It is THAT spicy, hot, rich and delicious.
Interestingly, the menu is presented in a format that serves everything together – much like our thali. The starter is very tasty grilled chicken with turmeric. Perfectly succulent with nice Asian flavors. Then comes the fiery main course that had two crab curries (one with the shell on and the other with crab chunks), a shrimp curry, a fish red curry and deep fried turmeric fish. Yep, it was fish-y all the way! Even the ‘mud rice’ that was served as accompanied had seafood in it.
The gravies were mostly coconut dominated but very different from what you would have regularly tasted. The crab (minus the shell) was fantastic – thin gravy but once again, spicy like none other! The fried fish was interesting. Despite the very delicate bones (be careful while having them!), it was thankfully not very heavily spiced, on the contrary it was slightly crunchy. But one morsel of the perfectly cooked fish red curry was enough to make us reach for the bottle of water! Needless to say, the dessert that came next never seemed this tempting. The only grouse was that it was too crab-oriented. While sea food is expected, perhaps a bit of meat or vegetable dishes would have balanced off what turned out to be a very special menu.
But don’t get alarmed at the spice level warning. It might be a bit shocking for those who are not used to it, but any other way would be a compromise. And when you try a new cuisine, it is important to not dilute its purity. Roi Jung Hoo takes you to the roots, it is sharp, authentic and very special – unlike any other Thai meal you may have had. And more importantly at Dhs 129 for a sharing menu for 2 and Dhs 189 for a sharing menu for 2 with signature Southern drinks, it’s incredibly priced.
The menu is available only till the end of November so don't wait too long. Step out of your comfort zone, give the red and green currys a rest for a bit and reward your taste buds to something special - all the way from Southern Thailand.