MANILA, Philippines - There's nothing more authentically Thai than a curry dish prepared in any of its regions. But so is having the dish prepared by a Thai chef using herbs and spices freshly pounded into an aromatic green poultice in a Thai ceramic pot.
This is just the dish we sampled at Azu Thai for this week's episode of "Taste Buds" on [email protected].
Now two years old, Azu Thai restaurant, located in the Milky Way Building in Makati, serves home-style Thai cuisine. With its modern but cozy interiors, and decor that lends the place a Thai feel, the food is definitely homey.
|Chef J Gamboa of Azu Thai. Credit: ANC
"We wanted to add to another cuisine to the restaurant mix," said Azu Thai's Chef J. Gamboa. "El Cirkulo for Spanish Mediterranean, Milky Way for Filipino, Tsukiji for Japanese. Azu Thai is the only restaurant now that has Thai chefs preparing food they would typically serve at home. We have Chefs Watee and Bow preparing things for us here."
Chef Jeghewatee Ohmanee or Watee hails from Satun, South Thailand.
She began by making a curry paste from scratch, the way they do it back home. In a ceramic pot, she pounded 15 ingredients together into a paste: Thai basil, shallots, garlic, Thai shrimp paste, coriander seeds, lemon grass, coriander roots, palm sugar (imported from Bangkok), black peppercorns, green peppers from which the curry gets its color, lime leaf, hot green chillies, kaffir fruit, Thai fish sauce, and sugar.
|Chef Watee with Azu Thai's green chicken curry. Credit: ANC
Chef J said one can best experience the curry flavors this way. Apart from the curry preparation, which seems to involve the Chef's estimate, Chef J insisted, cooking a curry dish is simpler than it looks.
"When you look at the recipe, it seems very complicated and very long but in Thai cooking, there's a lot of preparation but cooking for the most part is very quick," he said.
To make the Thai Chicken Curry, Watee sauteed coconut cream in a wok with oil, then added some curry paste in until the oil and liquid separated. Then she added kaffir leaf and the chicken breast. She then cut up some eggplants which she immediately tossed into the boiling mixture before garnishing the dish with Thai basil and some coconut cream.
"Another characteristic of Thai cuisine is the freshness," Chef J noted. "The vegetables are added near the end of the cooking process."
"Thai cuisine offers a wider range of flavors, given the sheer number of ingredients and spices that are used. The regional curries depend on where it is found in Thailand. These curries are made from a selection or combination of spices and herbs that are ground together to form the flavor base.
One unaccustomed to Thai curry can find it a bit spicy at first--spicy enough to cure an oncoming cold--before eventually getting over the initial surprise with the help of some steamed jasmine rice (kao hom mali) and Thai iced tea to neutralize the flavor.
Chef J said Filipinos generally find it spicy because of the main ingredient--chillies. But after getting over the initial heat, one gets to discover a whole new range of flavors.
"Thai cuisine is very aromatic. When you enter a Thai restaurant, you feel a lot is going on when you sit at the table and start eating. You experience a lot of flavors, different levels of heat, from salty, sweet, sometimes bitter, hot and cold, curry and coconut milk."
Azu Thai serves a variety of dishes. Chef J said the usual house favorites include the Green Chicken Curry and a different version of Pad Thai made with rice noodles.
"We also try to add lesser known dishes that are just as good," Chef J said citing Steamed Apahap with garlic in lime, and a Thai version of "crispy pata" with two sauces. A new dish popular with the kids is the Thai-style fried chicken with crispy shallots and sweet chili sauce (Gai Thod).
|Thai Halo Halo. Credit: Azu Thai
For dessert, the Ruamit and Tako provide a refreshing contrast to the spicy meal.
The ruamit is a unique Thai version of the Filipino "halo-halo" with water chestnuts, "nata de coco", tapioca balls, corn jackfruit, coconut strips and fresh coconut milk
Tako, on the other hand, is their own twist to the Maja Blanca, a light two-layer gelatinous dessert laid on artfully woven pandan cups.
AZU THAI GREEN CURRY PASTE (Geng Kew Wan)
3 pieces shallots
2 pieces garlic
20 pieces Thai green chilies
3 pieces green sili labuyo
2 tablespoon galangal
2 pieces Kaffir lime leaf
1 piece Kaffir lime fruit (rind only)
1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
1 tablespoon palm sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorn
1 tablespoon coriander root
1 tablespoon lemongrass
6 pieces sweet basil
1 teaspoon Thai shrimp paste
Combine all ingredients in a mortar and pestle and pound into a paste.
AZU THAI GREEN CHICKEN CURRY RECIPE (Geng Kew Wan Gai)
½ cup coconut milk
2 tablespoons Thai green curry paste
200 grams chicken breast, cut to ¾ inch cubes
1 cup coconut milk
1 piece eggplant, cut to ¾ inch cubes
1 piece chili, sliced
½ cup Thai basil
1 piece kaffir lime leaf, torn
1 tablespoon coconut cream
1. In a wok, heat coconut milk and add green curry paste. Mix well.
2. Add the chicken breast to the wok and mix well. Cook for 2 minutes or until chicken is half cooked.
3. Add the rest of the coconut milk and simmer for 2 minutes. Add eggplant and cook for an additional 2 minutes, then mix in chili, basil and kaffir lime leaf. Heat through, transfer to serving plate, top with coconut cream and serve.
Azu Thai is at the G/F Milkyway Building, 900 Arnaiz Avenue (Pasay Road) corner Paseo de Roxas, Makati City. Telephone:813-0671, 817-6252. For reservations, call (+632)813-0671, (+632)817-6252