Pleasant memories keep Rahul Verma company every step at Spice Route’s Thai food fiesta

One of the nicest memories I have of Spice Route is a dinner we had there many years ago. I have eaten there often— sometimes taken there by friends, otherwise invited by the restaurant— but this was an occasion that I can never forget. There were four of us, and we wanted a place which was not crowded, where we could smoke (that was before smoking became a deadly sin) and which was pleasant and not too cold (it was a December evening). So we were led to this beautiful covered area outside the restaurant, next to a lotus pond, where we sat on cushions under a pagoda-like structure and had a memorable meal.

I went back to the restaurant some days ago at the invitation of the chef, Veena Arora. The much awarded chef grew up in Thailand and knows the food of the region really well. She has organised a festival (Nine memories of my childhood) at the restaurant— which is a part of the beautiful Imperial Hotel on Janpath— recalling old dishes. When we say Thai food, many of us tend to limit our thoughts to the few dishes that are now a part of the general lingo – red and green curries, tom yam soup, phad Thais and so on. But Chef Veena is celebrating the little known dishes she grew up on.

And what dishes! The food was simple, yet so delicious. Take the chao tang naa tang— a dish of very lightly cooked prawns, white in colour, served on rice crackers. Or take the kieow tieow naan – rice noodle soup, which was again very mildly spiced — yet so tasty. The soup had been prepared with chicken stock, pok choy, celery, crushed peanuts, chilli flakes and vinegar.

I enjoyed the pla throd krod immensely. It was a dish of a crispy, batter-fried pomfret, which had been served with a sauce of dried shrimps. I poured the sweet-sour-and-hot sauce over the fish and ate it with real pleasure.

Another dish that I enjoyed a lot was the phad phak bung fai daeng— stir fried morning glory greens. I remember eating grilled tuna with stir-fried morning glory — and being struck by its taste— a couple of years ago at The Park in Calcutta. But the flavours in this particular dish were different – the greens had been cooked with soy bean paste, garlic and chilli flakes. Even the raw papaya salad (som tum chae) — which can be a bit too tart in some places— was deliciously mild.

I suppose the food tasted so good because these were dishes that had been cooked the way they are done at home. And home food, on most occasions, is light and lovely.

I can’t give you a clear idea of the prices, but you can make an intelligent guess. All that I can tell you is that Chef Veena is a superb cook. And sharing her memories of childhood is a lip-smacking journey down memory lane.