Asian food has always been admired, replicated and adapted by Westerners to suit their tastes. Having fertile lands, more “exotic” ingredients, an endless variety of herbs and spices, and a yearlong growing season mean that we’ve always had much more to work with and enjoy. But being culturally meek and humble plus the preference to keep to ourselves have resulted in Asian food being relegated to the “take-out” type, eaten out of a cardboard box.
In recent years, however, the rediscovery of Asian cuisine has put its food on a par with the best there is. The main reason fusion became a catchphrase is that Asian flavors were making their way to the best restaurants, spicing things up, so to speak. And of all the Asian cuisines, Thai is always up there with Chinese and Japanese as some of the best.
Thailand and the Philippines have a lot in common food-wise. We both love our pork and seafood. We have similar climates and mostly grow and catch the same food. The main difference is—and this applies not just to us but the entire Southeast Asian region—that Thailand was never colonized by Europeans. They’ve always maintained their independence, their way of life, their food. With food and cooking unadulterated, Thai food has remained authentic, exotic and unique.
Benjarong in Dusit Thani Manila celebrates Thai cuisine like no other in the country. Elevating Thai cuisine to more than just the eatery type of restaurant we are used to, Benjarong serves authentic dishes, prepared and presented in the best ways. Recently, Benjarong introduced the Thai Experience Tasting Menu, a modern dégustation dining experience. In presenting classic dishes in a more contemporary way, diners are treated to the same Thai flavors and aromas they’ve come to adore, but in a more creative way.
At the helm is Benjarong Manila Thai Chef de Cuisine Wactharaphon Yongbanthom, or Chef Ja for short. Chef Ja has given a new spin on classic dishes, playing with presentation, textures and ingredients while still being able to retain the soul of classic Thai cuisine. Flavors are not muted, the aromas prevalent in Thai food are still there, but she manages to make each dish look current and modern. The balance between creativity and adherence to tradition is difficult to balance, but Chef Ja has managed to tow the line exceptionally well (she has been on Iron Chef Thailand, if that is any indication of her talent level). You still know you are eating a Thai dish even if your eyes tell you that the presentation would be more at home at a modern European restaurant. It is a refreshing take on an already fantastic cuisine.
To add to the sumptuous food were the wine pairings that come with each course. While Thai cuisine and wine aren’t a traditional combination, the expertly curated selection of wines enhanced each dish, adding to an already great meal. No less than Dusit Thani’s amiable general manager, Mr. Stanley Lo, joined us for dinner and explained the intricacies behind their choices of wines. A veteran in the hospitality industry with an extensive background in wines and spirits, GM Stanley Lo was as gracious as he was informative. With Dusit Director of Marketing and Communications Ms. Shariza Relova rounding up our group, there was never a shortage of information and anecdotes to accompany bite after delicious bite. Hospitality is another trait that the Thais are known for, and both GM Lo and Ms. Relova embodied this admirable characteristic.
Benjarong Manila’s Thai Experience offers a fresh take on classic Thai dishes. Their take on how to do an Asian tasting menu can serve as an example on how to do it properly. Retaining and enhancing familiar flavors, presented artistically and without unnecessary gimmickry is the way to effectively update an already well-loved cuisine.
Benjarong is at the Ground Floor of Dusit Thani Manila, Ayala Center, Makati. For reservations, please call (02) 2388888.