New eats: Bangkok favorite Nara opens in PH

Jeeves de Veyra

Posted at Mar 07 2018 06:10 AM | Updated as of Mar 07 2018 08:30 AM

MANILA -- One of Bangkok’s top Thai restaurants has opened a branch in the Philippines.

Nara Thai was brought in by the Roku restaurant group following Roku Sushi and Ramen, which opened in Katipunan six years ago; and Sushi Nori, which specializies in sushi and maki, and already has five branches around Metro Manila. 

Nara Thai restaurant was founded in 2003 by a group of female entrepreneurs and is named for one of its founders, Narawadee Srikarnchana. Apart from Thailand, it has branches in Hong Kong, Myanmar, Taipei, Mumbai, and now, the Philippines.

“In the Philippines, there are a lot of Thai restaurants. Our brand would probably give you the most authentic Thai food in a mall setting. You don’t have to go and spend in hotel. We’ve had Benjarong (at Dusit Thani Manila) and Spices (at The Peninsula Manila) for a long, long time with their quality. But then, people these days are more practical,” said Sheila Romero, CEO of the Roku Group, who runs this restaurant with her daughter Milka. 

Shiela and Milka Romero, the mother and daughter team behind Nara. Photo by author

“Nara is a celebration of families. Sharing memories is my thrust in business,” she added.

The launch was a star-studded affair with celebrities and representatives from Nara Thai Cuisine in Bangkok with no less than Thai Ambassador to the Philippines Thanatip Upatising cutting the ribbon.

Thai Ambassador to the Philippines Thanatip Upatasing join the Nara team for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Photo by author

The spiciness of Thai food can be daunting, specially to those who are not used to the heat. With other Thai restaurants, entrees can be tweaked upon request by the guests. This is not so in Nara. On the practical side, this is to avoid confusing the chefs who spent four months in Thailand training under their Thai counterparts. What they will do instead is to recommend dishes that are milder and friendlier to people uncomfortable with spice.

Nara is on the restaurant row on the third floor of SM Megamall's Mega Fashion Hall. Its interiors are bathed in silver and purple, while the level of artistry given to presentation makes the food taste as good as it looks.

Here's what to order at Nara.

Thai Iced Tea and Rose Mojito

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Start off with a Rose Mojito but have Thai Milk Tea throughout the meal as the milk tea tames the excess spiciness so diners can eat more.

Crispy catfish salad

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For starters, Nara’s Yum Pla Dook Fu (catfish salad with spicy sauce) has more of the crunchy catfish meat than other Thai restaurants. Slices of green mango with spiced vinegar sauce make this a great starter.

Pad Thai

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Pad Thai is a relatively simple dish. But Nara’s version has a heart of palm artfully prepared as garnish atop the tamarind-sauced noodles.

Bagoong Rice

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Nara’s doesn’t even hide the alamang in its Bagoong Rice. Mix the rice together with the green mango, salted egg, crispy catfish, and meat and it’s a hearty meal by itself.

Tom Young Goong

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Nara’s dishes also have a distinct taste. The Tom Young Goong has more sweet notes than sour mingling with the spice as compared to other tom yums. The half-shelled prawns are also a nice touch making it much easier to spoon out the meat.

Tom Kha Gai

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Make no mistake, the Tom Yum Goong is still spicy. Tom Kha Gai, a gingery coconut soup with chicken, is recommended as an alternative.

Roast duck red curry

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Those who think that sweating while eating is a sign of really enjoying a meal will adore the Khang Phed Ped Yang (roasted duck with red curry). The spice level is pretty high that surprisingly goes well with the gamey flavor of duck.

Beef Massaman Curry

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For those uncomfortable with the heat level of the duck curry, the Beef Massaman Curry is creamier, richer, and the spice level is more pleasant and palatable to the spice-uninitiated.

Soft shell crab with tamarind sauce

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The freshness of the ingredients is of utmost importance in Thai cuisine and Nara’s Phu Nim Tord Sauce Ma Kam's (soft shell crab with tamarind sauce) slight sourness does not hide the soft shell crab’s flavor.

Fried prawns with garlic

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Same goes for the Goong Kord Kra Tiem (fried prawns with garlic). Fried garlic serves as a complementary counterpoint to the fresh prawns.

Sticky Mango Rice and Water Chestnuts in Coconut Milk

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Traditional Thai desserts Sticky Mango Rice and Water Chestnuts in Coconut Milk make for a sweet ending to a spicy meal.

Nara Thai Cuisine has just been open for a few weeks and it has already gotten raves from guests. 

“We’ve just been open for two weeks and a lot of people who’ve tried us say they don’t have to go to Bangkok anymore,” said Romero.

Nara Thai Cuisine is open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day.