Issaya Siamese Club, Bangkok

Essential to Bangkok survival is knowing where to discover a sanctuary garden for lunch and dinner. Chef Ian Kittichai is featured in Asia’s top 50 Restaurants, Issaya, a quick taxi ride from central Bangkok, and an oasis in a noisy steaming city, is just a stone’s throw from the chaos of Klong Toey Market. Housed in a 1920’s Thai built home and surrounded by lush gardens, outdoor dining and indoor dining rooms for steamy days. Upstairs is the Siamese Club designed as a lounge bar. Cocktails should begin upstairs, I highly recommend the Ginger Basil Kicker, a refreshing aperitif! If you are traveling with friends, Issaya menu is designed for sharing generous portions.

While he was growing up, chef Pongtawat ‘Ian’ Chalermkittichai would rise at 3am daily to accompany his mother to the wet market to select produce for her neighborhood grocery. After school, Ian would push a cart through the neighborhood selling his mother’s different curries, while shouting: “Khao Geang Ron Ron Ma Leaw Jaar!” (Hot curry coming!)

‘Issaya’ which represents the rainy season, a name chosen for the nature and flourishing gardens surrounding this century-old house. The interiors are bright and colorful and brimming with huge tropical floral displays. Think fuchsia, pink, aqua blue walls, multiple dining rooms are comfortable, some with cozy sofas set around a low table for intimate Saturday lunch. Issaya is the ground floor dining outlet that includes both a dining room and large outdoor terrace. The menu features Chef Kittichai’s unique signature Thai cuisine of traditional ingredients and flavors with international and progressive cooking methods. Some of Chef’s signature dishes, such as Mussuman Curry Lamb Shank (Mussuman Gae) and Jasmine Flower Flan (Kanom Dok Mali), as well as an ever-changing market menu that highlights seasonal specials, direct from the market, are the heart of the menu.

Issaya also features Chef’s garden where guests can see aromatic Thai herbs grown year-round. Chef Kittichai is a pioneer in farm-to-table dining in Thailand and incorporates his purity and freshness beliefs into Issaya.There are several outstanding signatures at Issaya but most unmissable is Yum Hua Plee – banana blossom and palm heart salad, crispy shallots and roasted peanuts in a chili jam dressing and Kittichai’s “broken bucket” dessert of Kanom Tung Taek – cold coconut crepe soufflé with Thai condiments

Besides the famed Issaya, Chef Kittichai is involved in 13 food and beverage outlets covering various different cuisines in four countries. His most recent opening was a fourth branch of Spot Dessert Bar in New York City.

Kittichai has appeared on various episodes of Iron Chef America and Iron Chef Japan and he is currently filming on the set of Iron Chef Thailand. He has also recently filmed Chef to Chef and 3 Chefs, 1 City.

Highly recommend, reservations essential.

The Gift from Bhutan & Amankora

I travel for adventure, culture and new recipes, oh and maybe some shopping. In many destinations i am introduced to divine cuisine, these meals inspire a dinner party based on a native dish. Do you remember the first time you dined on a tangy spice infused chicken and date tagine in Morocco?  And then schlepped a clay tagine home to create a full blown Moroccan Feast – guests in exotic caftans, babouche (shoes), and of course accompanied by ancient folk music. I’ll never forget that spicy summer evening in my garden.

Momo Heaven, served in a traditional hand made local basket. Use caution with the fireworks in your mouth red chili!

Our initial evening Amankora Thimphu pre-prandial cocktail hour included amid a platter of morsels, a humble dumpling, known as a Momo, accompanied by a fiery red chili sauce. Who knew it would become the precious darling of Bhutan and virtually demanded by our travel group exploring Amankora Lodges. Momo became a rally cry from thereafter. An absorbing 10-day Aman Adventure enriched by sampling Bhutanese cuisine including: Yak steak with radish red chili, diced chicken curry with glass noodles, chili cheese and Yak butter tea.

As we drove through the villages and countryside from Amankora Thimphu to Amankora Punakha, I casually queried Mark Wright, Amankaro Thimphu Manager, will we be able to enjoy Momo’s for lunch on arrival? Mark hesitated and murmured, in his very proper British accent, ah Gwen, Momo’s are usually served pre-dinner. Pardon me?! Frantic texting ensued from the back seat and we were thrilled to again snack on Momo’s on arrival at Punakha Lodge.

There are three types of Momo ingredients: Beef, Cabbage & Cheese and Pork- the shape indicates the filling.

We became addicted to Momo’s and required three times a day offering! Mark alerted each ensuing location to advise we consumed Momo’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Warn Chef, we have fervent Momo Maniacs approaching each lodge.

Amankora arduously tracks guest likes and dislikes, penchants and weaknesses – one late evening at Amankora Punakha, I skipped dinner as we enjoyed a wonderfully bountiful lunch. At nine, I called to request help with my fireplace and seeking the fabulous, also slightly addictive, hot water bottle for my bed – I was gently reminded by staff that I hadn’t dined yet – oh, a couple of Momo’s and a glass of Chenin Blanc will suffice.

With that, on a wintry snowy morning, I requested a Momo cooking class at Amankora Paro – as Amankora is inclined to do, please their guests, Chef invited me to the kitchen for a personal class, just like that!

Chef ‘s Tej Bakadur Rai and Richard Bia at Amankora Paro, Kadren chela! And of course, compliments to Mark who alerted each Lodge of our Momo Addiction! I’m eternally grateful.

Momo pop up or pre-prandial treats in my garden once I master Yak Chili Stew, Yul Chum (Bhutanese local white rice), Kewa Hanstey Tshem ( Local potato curry with spinach).

I’ve included a couple of recipes here from the Amankora chef’s, presented to me on Bhutanese hand made paper, of course!

Chef ‘s Tej Bakadur Rai at Amankora Paro

Nga Mangm goni, Momo! Taski delek!