Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Occasional Vegetarian

Where’s the main dish? First time vegetarians are baffled by the food serving seeing only seemingly side dishes on the plate. I confess it truly takes a good vegetarian meal to impress me. Meat is filling and veggies are mere garnishing.

I admit to being an occasional vegetarian, and why not? It is a lifestyle choice. Be it for body cleansing or a mere alternative in another cuisine, vegetables are truly a healthy choice. Growing up, it seemed to me like a big sacrifice to have meatless days, but with the increasing amounts of research, it is undeniable that going green has a lot of health benefits. So where do I find a good place to get satisfying vegetarian food?

“Vegetarian cuisine like any other cuisine (Italian, French or Thai) is an alternative choice even for gourmets. You don’t have to be Greek to enjoy Greek food, likewise a vegetarian to enjoy vegetarian food.” Sylvie Bruzeau, a vegetarian since 8 years, together with partner Luka Wong created Tamarind Café; enticing the growing healthy population and presenting them with creative and delicious meatless cuisine.

Tamarind Café (Sukhumvit soi 20, Tel: 02 663 7421, open weekdays 3pm-11pm, weekends 10am-11pm) is a quaint, well-lighted, split-level bistro that offers innovative cuisine inspired by the Sylvie’s and Luka’s travels. Growing up in the picturesque Loire Valley, Sylvie picked up fresh home-grown vegetables in their garden. She emulates home cooked meals in creating her dishes.

Freshness is the basic criterion in the kitchen. Ingredients are the best picks of the season, from the different suppliers around Thailand to early morning produce from the Klong Toie market. The kitchen is home to homemade jams, breads, pastas and in-house sauces.

A meal can start with a Tamarind Kiss Cocktail (vodka, fresh tamarind with a dash of orange juice, B190) from the ample-sized bar; or one of the café’s original mixes: rouge cooler (watermelon, lime & mint, B120); velvet underground (beetroot, mango, orange &mint, B150), or carrot spice (carrot, apple, lime & ginger, B150).

Quiche, one of the house favorites (B95/slice), tops the list of 18 appetizers. The Sweet Tropical (B160) is a serving of sliced mangoes and julienne beetroot on a bed of lettuce presented in a wide glass; in a slight whisk of the chive garnish, it is swished into a plate- really neat! Ratatofu is a ratatouille inspired dish; a cube of tofu, topped with zucchini, eggplant, onion and tomato, simmered in a ginger and dill sauce (B130).

All of the best cuisines of the world are represented in the main dish list. Spearheaded by Geng Kyo Wan, a spicy Thai veggie green curry served with glass noodles or rice (B230) and Pad Thai, rice fettuccine with tofu, chive, egg, bean sprout and sweet tamarind sauce (B160). Japanese inspired dish of a selection of 4 types of sushi rolls are “east meets west” creations: mango and homemade pesto; cheese, dill and basil; crispy baby corn, mushroom and Thai basil; and miso-grilled veggies; rolled and presented appetizingly on a wooden board (B350). French cuisine is well represented in a baked dish of cauliflower-asparagus-mushroom-potato-herbs-chili-gratin, smothered in rich béchamel sauce. Italian, of course, is ever present; the baked mushroom lasagna (B350) is a best seller.

A vegetarian feast is always complemented with nice sumptuous desserts. Pies, cakes, puddings and homemade ice creams are worth the calories spared. The chocolate fondue with tropical fruits (B150) is a perfect treat for two.

Open on weekends from 10am-11pm, Tamarind’s all day breakfast is a fancy fair of feel good meals- just what weekends are all about. From colorful omelettes, muffin Benedictines, French toasts, crispy waffles, refreshing trifles to piping hot pancakes, the café is a great place to hang out. With wireless internet access and the latest photo art exhibits, it is just a nice and easy spot to while away the weekend.

Between the pure and simple tofu and the unpretentious taste of fresh crisp garden salads, I must admit I’m considering more regular meals of vegetarian flavors. I’m not ready to give up the pleasures of a grilled lobster or a good piece of Vienner Schnitzel, but Tamarind succeeds in convincing me, a confessed occasional vegetarian, that vegetarian cuisine need not be bland or uninteresting. As Sylvie says, “… we all have to find our own balance in our lifestyles and discover what suits us and live well”.

Saturday, September 1, 2007


Anyone care for lunch in a pretty three-tiered lacquered box? How about thinly sliced vegetable rolled like flowers or leaves, or shaped and carved with designs? Or tiny portions of foods in different variations presented like artworks, with a piece of origami on the side?

O-Bentō boxes are fun! They are single meal portions traditionally consisting of rice, fish or meat, pickled or cooked veggies in pretty lacquer ware, or wooden boxes for takeaway. In former days, it was a housewife’s skill to prepare bento boxes for the husband and children as a packed lunch, until they evolved and played a major part of in Japanese cuisine.

Often elaborate and whimsical, these treasure-like meals dates back a thousand years ago. Later, they were special treats for hanami- a special outdoor party done beneath the sakura, during the cherry blossoms season from late March to early May. In modern Japan, they are popular lunch boxes or tea party treats.

Tsu, one of the most innovative Japanese restaurants in town, offers these lunch boxes. Just a flight of steps off from Sukhumvit Road, down to the basement, it is an easy access for those grabbing a fast lunch. Chef Aki, a superb host, walks around checking on guests; exchanges a word or two and maybe get some feed back from the bubbly lunch time patrons.

“A bento is traditionally made in a 4:3:2:1 ratio: 4 parts of rice, 3 parts of the side dish (either meat or fish), 2 parts of vegetables, and 1 part of a
pickled vegetables and dessert. Here at Tsu, I make 5 or 6 of my day’s selection, depending on what is freshest in season. Prepared cold dishes are done in such a way that they will taste nice, cold.” Chef Aki is very dedicated to his craft.

The main dish carries the title of the bento box, with complementing side dishes, okazu - which can include meat, fish, eggs, tofu, fruit and vegetables- all presented in bite-size form for handy chopstick action. Considering color and pairing of food, the presentation is appetizing and aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

A selection of six Bentō boxes, all served with chawanmushi (steamed egg custard), miso soup and fresh fruit, include: Grilled Chicken in a Box (300B); Hirekatsu in the Box – deep-fried pork cutlet; Unagi (fresh water eel) in the Box (400B); Tsu in the Box -daily fresh sushi, assorted tempura & grilled fish (380B); Sushi in Box (480B); and Sushi and Sashimi in the Box (580B). An advance order by phone will have your bento boxes ready for you as soon as you arrive.

Noodles- the filling, energy staple food of the Japanese diet- are not overlooked in the menu. Soba is a type of thin
Japanese noodle made from buckwheat flour; in contrast to udon which are thick noodles made from wheat. It is served either chilled with a dipping sauce, or in hot broth as a noodle soup. Tsu’s Tanuki Soba (cold, 190B) is served with seafood, vegetable and tempura flakes. Niku Miso Udon (190B), a Japanese version of a pasta Bolognese, uses thick wheat flour noodles topped with minced pork miso sauce. Three other hot noodle dishes (225B/serving) complete the noodle list: Tempura Udon, soup with crispy shrimp and vegetable tempura; Ebi Sansai Udon, soup with wild plants topped with a grilled shrimp skewer; and Niku Soba, soup with sliced Australian beef and veggies.

A special treat at Tsu are varieties of imported low fat sorbets made from Japanese lemons, oranges, apples, peaches and pineapples. They are beautifully carved out, made into sorbets and served in their fruit casings (350B/serving). Although a bit pricey, they are just heavenly.

Japanese cuisine, as such as modern Japanese culture, is ever evolving; yet art always work hand in hand in every detail. Served in fine Japanese restaurants, bento boxes in cute lacquered wood boxes are strongly based on its compact niftiness- it inspired the IBM ThinkPad design. Although cute and pretty, bento boxes are made for everyone. I even picture a table of bento lunch for the whole gang with Tony Soprano!

JW Marriott
4 Sukhumvit Road Soi 2, Bangkok
Tel: (66) 2-6567700