FOR the uninitiated, the cuisine of Bangkok, and all of Thailand, can be a glorious revelation as the Land of Smiles is known for its fantastic use of fresh ingredients, many of which are unfamiliar to westerners.
The Global Table spent an afternoon with Natti Simmons of Natti's Thai Kitchen, a landmark Port Elizabeth restaurant where many locals surely got their very first taste of Thai food when the restaurant opened in 1997.
Natti grew up in a part of Bangkok right next to the Grand Palace, but left the city in her early 20s after completing her studies in horticulture. She met her husband, Mark, at a kibbutz in Israel. The two moved back to his home city of PE, where they set up their delightful little restaurant which is now in Park Lane.
"We have two boys and the youngest, Chaim, 19, shares my love of cooking and has just qualified as a chef," says Natti.
Thai food does not usually involve hours of cooking, stir-frying being a popular method. But there can be quite a lot of prepping, for instance by slicing meat and veggies. Fresh herbs like coriander, lemongrass, basil and mint are a cornerstone of the cuisine and Natti grows many of these in her kitchen garden. Other common flavours are ginger, garlic, galangal, tamarind, turmeric, soya sauce, lime leaves and, of course, chillies.
Dishes are often spicy, and my husband and Global Table partner Salvelio and I spluttered a bit after sampling Natti's marvellous beef salad (see recipe on this page). But you can use less of the hot stuff if you prefer!
Natti also showed us how to make fresh springrolls using rice paper as a wrapper – visit The Global Table today for the recipe.
Thai food is often served with a variety of sauces and condiments, for instance one consisting of fish sauce, lime juice, chopped chillies and garlic.
Everybody knows sweet chilli sauce; you could also have sliced chillies in rice vinegar, or chillies in various other guises.
Natti makes a lovely condiment from pickled radish which she buys vacuum packed from the Vegetarian Centre in Newton Park, which also stocks many other Thai and Asian ingredients.
THAI BEEF SALAD
200g beef rump
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
pinch of salt
1 tsp sugar
fresh mint leaves
fresh basil or rocket
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp soya sauce
fresh red chilli to taste
sesame seeds for garnishing
Grill the steak on both sides; it must still be very rare inside. Slice thinly.
Sprinkle salt and sugar over onion, mix through and add to grilled beef.
Assemble the salad using lettuce, mint, basil or rocket and tomatoes (de-seed if preferred). Put beef/onion mix on top.
Make a dressing from the lemon juice, soya and finely sliced chillies (if using). Pour over the salad. Garnish with sesame seeds.