Prawn vada, anyone? On a Thai high with shrimp cakes, banana blossom salads and more from Benjarong's new menu
Of all the unusual dishes we have ever tasted in Chennai, the Tod Mun Goong shrimp cakes at Benjarong easily rank among the most innovative and toothsome creations doing the rounds.
Straight out of the deep fryers, they’re commonly dished out as street food in Thailand as patties or in the shape of donuts like South Indian vadas.
At Benjarong in Alwarpet, the Tod Mun Goong — a deep-fried preparation of prawn mush — turns out as crisp as the finest dosas of your favourite aunt, and as scrummy and desirable as piping hot plate-loads of pakodas (or bajjis) on a rainy day afternoon.
It is no surprise that they are the most in-demand items between the old and new menus at this landmark Thai restaurant, informs Chef Ramkumar Varatharaj, who’s been with the chain for 15 years now, and heads the kitchens of their network.
For their new menu, Chef Ramkumar roped in a veteran hand at Thai cuisine — Chef Phanupong Srinet, who has worked across a fair part of the globe, and moved to Chennai to join Benjarong earlier this April.
For the most part, the menu retains longtime favourites that diners have come to associate with Benjarong, while bringing in a handful of unique offerings that are sure to set your taste buds tingling by merely pronouncing the names, and rolling the Thai terms off your tongue.
Consider the Yum Huabli Gai — which when mouthed slowly tends to sound like, ‘yum happy guy’ — a salad of banana blossoms served so glistening fresh, it conjures sparkling, dew-washed mornings on a sunshiny beach.
Utmostly tender and brittle, you’d be wont to munch on the blossoms endlessly over a late repast, with just the right hit of zest in the mix to keep you spooning through the fresh produce.
The best part really is in the aftertaste of water chestnuts, refreshing the back of your mouth like a lingering breath freshener.
The usual suspects among ingredients remain mainstays in the new menu — so you’re still left salivating over wonderfully tossed flavours loaded with nuts, aromatic herbs and spices, marked by adequate nips of tang, tartness and pungency, with an occasional sweet dab of creamy coconut milk dressing.
In all honesty, the effect of a meal here on one’s senses is as sensuous and lulling as a full-body oil massage, minus the joy of having someone walk all over your back.
The satays, stir-fries and exotic soups are still fast-sellers, as are the specials of the papaya salad, and the Chiang mai delicacy of Khao Soi.
For a side note, Chef Ramkumar took a moment to tell us about the origins of their name: ‘benjarong’ refers to traditional Thai painted ceramic and porcelain ware, examples of which are on display in the restaurant, while the word also refers to the idea of ‘five colours’ — as in, ‘benja’ and ‘rong’.
And, if we were to pick a dish from the menu that’s so delicately and tastefully done, it’s worthy of a spot on a mantlepiece, it would be the amusingly named Tung Tong, of crispy golden pouches filled with water chestnuts.
But for our top pick — over the curious case of prawn vadas, and the many other instances of showpiece-worthy culinary wizardry — we pick the Hormok Goong, of steamed mousse with a choice of seafood.
Served in a wrapped leaf, the curry makes for a hearty luncheon with helpings of jasmine rice. All you need for afters then is a vision of the sea, and a hammock for a work-shy siesta.
Meal for two `1,500+ tax approx.
— Jaideep Sen