Take your taste buds on a tour of Thailand… in Sydney

The flavours of Thailand range from south to north, with chilli, tamarind, ginger and shrimp paste flavouring seafood dishes in the south, while in the north, chicken and pork curries feature spices such as galangal and turmeric. And in between, the street food of Bangkok has a personality all its own, with a wide mix of flavours accompanied by a vibrant night life. Did you know you could experience all this in Sydney?

While Sydney (and most of Australia) has enjoyed an abundance of Thai restaurants for many years, more recently there has been a demand for more authentic Thai food, as more and more Australians discover the true taste of Thailand on their travels there.

Some Thai trailblazers have been catering to this increasing demand in recent years, restaurants such as Spice I Am, Chat Thai and @Bangkok igniting a love for authentic Thai food and attracting a new generation of foodies.

Recognising this demand, Thailand’s Department of International Trade Promotion (DITP), in partnership with import company Asian Inspirations has established an accreditation system for Australian Thai restaurants: Thai Select.

The award is divided in two categories; Thai ready-to-eat/ready-to-cook products and Thai restaurants.

“It’s not just a meal; it’s a journey into Thai culture”

Thai Select restaurants serve authentic Thai meals, made with Thai produce using traditional recipes. The service provided by restaurants with a Thai Select Award must be of a high quality, in an atmosphere that transports you to Thailand with that famous Thai smile. More information, including a directory of Thai Select restaurants can be found here.

Caysorn: Southern Thai Food

Our journey into Thai Culture begins in Phuket, via Caysorn Thai Restaurant in Sydney’s Haymarket. Caysorn is the creation of owner Chalio, who comes from the southern Thai region of Phatthalung, an area renowned for its spicy dishes. Chalio moved to Australia in 1973, and after a few years working in some of Sydney’s top restaurants, opened one of the first Thai restaurants in Sydney in the 1980s. After winning a small business award in 1990, Chalio realised a dream; to open a restaurant with food from his home province.

Our tasting plates start with Gai Yang Kaow Lae, named after the traditional painted fishing boats in southern Thailand, similar to satay, but sweeter and stickier, melt-in-your-mouth BBQ Pork Cheek and Kao Yum, an aromatic herb salad.

Our main course is three varieties of curry; fish kidney soup, crab coconut curry and tamarind soup served with kanom jeen noodles. All of this is washed down with Thai Milk Tea before dessert is served; sweet coconut simmered cassava.

Address: 06/8 Quay Street, Prince Centre Building Level 1, Haymarket NSW 2000. Open 7 days: 11am-9:30pm http://www.caysorn.com.au/

Show Neua: Northern Thai Street Food

From Phuket, our taste buds journey north to the walking streets of Chiang Mai, as we walk a few hundred metres to Show Neua, not far from the Capital Theatre on George Street. The restaurant is the result of a collaboration between an architect, professional chef and two other youngbloods, each with over 10 years’ experience in the restaurant industry.

This tiny restaurant is beautifully designed, with an atmosphere that instantly transports you to northern Thailand and a team of friendly smiling Thai staff ushering us to our seats to enjoy a colourful and aromatic selection of tasting plates, served on a ‘khantoke’, a pedestal tray traditionally used by the Lanna people of northern Thailand.

Our tasting plates include two different styles of curry: Khao Soi Chicken and Kanom Jeen Nam Ngeow. Khao Soi Chicken is a northern Thai version of laksa; a coconut turmeric curry served over flat egg noodles and garnished with pickled vegetables and crunchy deep-fried noodles. Kanom Jeen Nam Ngeow is based on a dish eaten by the Tai Yai people from Burma and China’s Yunnan province. It has a slightly sourer taste and is served over rice noodles.

Alongside these mains, pork crackling, tasting portions of a couple of varieties of northern style larb and Sai Ua, the tastiest pork sausage in the world, flavoured with garlic, kaffir lime, lemongrass, chilli and coriander.

Address: Shop 2A/710 George St, Haymarket NSW 2000. Open 7 days 11am–12am. http://fb.me/showneuathai

@Bangkok Thai Restaurant

Having enjoyed the spicy southern dishes of Phuket and the delights of Chiang Mai’s walking streets, we now journey to Bangkok to explore the street food and vibrant nightlife of Yaowarat and Khao San Road, or rather, @Bangkok Thai Restaurant in Capitol Square, George Street.

@Bangkok is open to the wee small hours of the morning, seven days a week (5am on weekends), serving authentic Bangkok street food, with bucket cocktails and live music.

Our four courses include a mix of breakfast dishes, noodles, trendy dinner and their ‘Never Sleep Set’, served with Bucket Boost. Breakfast is Moo Ping, BBQ pork on a skewer, served with sticky rice and Tom Loerd Moo (Pork Blood Soup). What I suppose is lunch, is the most popular noodle dish in Bangkok: Thai Boat Noodle and our ‘Trendy Dinner’ is corn salad, grilled pork neck, Crying Tiger and Sai Ua.

The Bangkok Never Sleep Set includes a deliciously fragrant and tasty Yum Pla Foo, a hot and sour crispy fish salad with julienned apple and coriander, deep fried chicken wings and Tom Sap (spicy pork spare rib soup), all washed down with a Bucket Boost cocktail mix of Midori and Vodka.

Address: Capitol Square Building, 730-742 George St, NSW 2000. Monday to Thursday 11am–1am, Friday & Saturday 11am–4am, Sunday 11am–2am. https://www.facebook.com/atbangkok.syd

Cooking Class with master chef Sujet Saenkham at Spice I Am.

So now we have explored Thailand with our tastebuds from South to North, our Thai Town tour ends with a masterchef finale: a cooking class with Sujet Saenkham, co-owner and executive chef of Spice I Am.

It’s no surprise that Sujet is a shining star amongst the Thai Select community, with his award-winning restaurant Spice I Am being named “the best Thai restaurant outside Thailand’ by numerous food critics, and a queue of patrons outside the restaurant waiting to be served every day of the week.

“I cook every dish from the heart. The reward that I get is the smile on their faces. It’s the thing that makes me smile.”

As we’re briefed on the dishes we’ll learn how to cook today, we’re served delicious southern style betel leaf fritters before getting stuck into northern style Khao Soi Chicken served with egg noodles, followed by southern style fish curry with a hot and sour broth served with riceberry rice. As we cook, Sujet shares stories, explains the origin of each Thai dish we are attempting and tries his best to empower us to add enough salt and palm sugar to create the perfect umami taste.

Before we roll out the door, we’re treated to a slice of Riceberry Rice Coconut Pudding, with a sweet red bean topping. Delicious.

Address: 90 Wentworth Ave, Surry Hills NSW 2010. Tuesday to Sunday (Closed on Monday). Lunch: 11:30am to 15:00pm, Dinner: 17:30pm to 22:00pm https://www.spiceiam.com/

10 Reasons to visit Sukhothai, Thailand’s ancient capital

Sukhothai_Historical_Park_Wat_Mahathat_01Thailand’s ancient capital, established in the early 13th century, Sukhothai is located 427km north of Bangkok, and literally means “Dawn of Happiness.” For 120 years Sukhothai was ruled by many kings, the most famous being King Ramkhamhaeng the Great, who created the Thai alphabet and laid the foundation for politics, monarchy and religion.

Here are 10 reasons to visit and 10 things to do in Sukhothai. Continue reading “10 Reasons to visit Sukhothai, Thailand’s ancient capital”

Chiang Rai’s White Temple, a treasure trove of artistic delights and oddities.

Northern Thailand’s Chiang Rai is well-known as a centre for the arts, with several incredible cultural attractions and colourful characters from Thailand’s art world. The White Temple is one of these attractions, a place that really earns the description: unique.

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While it looks like a traditional Thai temple, Wat Rong Khun, or the White Temple as it is known to foreigners, is anything but. The creation of millionaire Thai artist Ajarn Chalermchai Kositpipat, it’s both an homage to traditional Thai artistry and popular culture.

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As you approach the White Temple itself, past a pool of reflection surrounded by ornate sculptures and incredibly decorative walls and turrets, a forest of disembodied arms reach up to you as you pass over a bridge to the entrance.

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Surrounding the temple grounds, the heads of demons hang from trees – traditional Thai demons alongside the Incredible Hulk, Terminator, even Gollum.

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Ancient Buddhist legends, the struggle between Lord Buddha and the Mara (demon) are told in traditional style, a mural on the walls of the temple interior, but the characters depicted are 20th century heroes and villains, like Spiderman, Ultraman and Neo, facing off Darth Vader and the Terminator.

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There’s a message here to the world, that we have lost a moral compass to guide us, in Chalermchai’s words; “look at each other with kindness, not with hate that can lead to war”. The eyes of a huge demon each have portraits of George Bush and Osama Bin Laden inside them, looking to each other, as below them, the Twin Towers burn. The artist’s message by including these characters is that in reality, while we need real-life heroes – no movie screen heroes could save the Twin Towers.

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As you move through the temple, a path of enlightenment takes you towards a statue of the Lord Buddha with artwork transforming from demons to angels as you pass through, out the other end to a heavenly garden’, down a passage decorated with silver leaves and beyond to another golden temple surrounded by a pool.

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The White Temple, and its surrounding garden and buildings, is an ongoing project, worked on by Chalermchai and some 300 apprentices.

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In a studio the size of a hanger, we were able to observe the artists at work on their latest project, a giant mural and statue commemorating the heroes of the nearby rescue of schoolboy soccer team, the ‘Wild Boars’ from their ordeal in the flooded Tham Luang cave.

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The centrepiece of this memorial artwork, which will eventually be located near the entrance to Tham Luang cave, is a larger than life statue of the former Thai Navy Seal, Saman Kunan.

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Back towards the entrance of this enormous compound, there is an art gallery which houses a great collection of the artist’s more traditional pieces, painted in traditional Thai style, illustrations depicting Buddhist legends, as well as pieces of memorabilia from Chalermchai’s private collection, old vinyl LPs, comics and various other toys and kitsch oddities.

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The complex is something you won’t find anywhere else. With each turn you take you stumble across another beautiful construction or oddity of sorts, like this toilet block fit for a king, for example, more like a palace than a bathroom.

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