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Thai to please the stomach...

Thai is in. Thai is hot. Thai is nice. But take care as not every Thai is a good cook. Choose in stead to taste one of the better varieties at Chilly Seasson in New Delhi's Lodi Colony. SUMITRA SENAPATY pays a visit, relishes the fare, recommends it to us all... .

Chilly Seasson to please the Thais... . and Indians.

JUST A few years ago, Thai food was scarce and exotic, but what a difference time can make! After a few high society Thai restaurants high-profiled this lusty Asian cuisine and numerous wannabes hitched themselves to its star, Thai food has become almost as ubiquitous as the innumerable Chinese outlets. But the dining public should be wary. Not every pad Thai you eat is worth its noodles. Not every Thai can cook! Selecting the good from the mediocre can challenge even the most devoted chilli fan. So what do you do when a new place opens?

Try it out, for once. And that's what you should do with the new Chilly Seasson at the Lodi Colony main market. Chilly Seasson opened a few months back and lost no time finding an audience. Seasson has a double `s' for the benefit of numerology. The space is attractive: apricot-shaded walls, wooden staircase, bright orange-yellow crockery placed on a hue of Burnt Sienna tile-top tables, along with an impromptu art gallery with paintings for sale, the proceeds of which are given to charity. The interiors are contemporary and do not overtly suggest cuisine from the Far East. But the curries and stir-fries would meet the physician's approval as a tasty way to pack in your daily requirement of vegetable servings. And the prices, while not rock bottom, are eminently reasonable.

Chilly Seasson is, in a word, pleasant. As an affordable restaurant where you can grab a fizz -- no beer as yet -- and something livelier than a hamburger or pasta. The restaurant serves up food from Thailand, China, Tibet and Indonesia.

True to Thai tradition, the cooking is straightforward. Most dishes are with fresh vegetables, fortified with meat or beancurd, and dressed up with light or dark sauces spiced with ginger, chillies, lemon grass and sweet basil. Several menu categories let you choose your basic dish, such as Kao pad -- fried rice -- beancurd, chicken, lamb or seafood, with prices varying accordingly.

You can also decide how hot you want it: from spicy to crazy hot. A red chilly indicates pungent dishes on the menu card. Thais are passionate about chillies, using them in almost everything: salads, soups, curries, vegetable dishes and even dips for fruits. All kinds are used, depending on the degree of `heat' required. Prik khee nuu is a small, hottest chilli. The larger prik chee pha, is milder in taste and mainly used for decoration. The largest and mildest, prik youak plays a role in stir-fried vegetable preparations.

Chilly Seasson appetisers include Far Eastern favourites popular in Delhi -- Chicken Satay with peanut sauce - Rs. 130 -- or the Mushroom and Beancurd Satay - Rs. 110. But something to really gorge on, are the Steamed Cakes made of fish with Thai spices and herbs - Rs. 140. Served with an unusual coriander sauce. These little Thai morsels are best prepared with the local `surmai' fish. Also served with the crisp golden corn cakes, this coriander sauce is vegetarian, made with light soya sauce instead of the usual Thai fish sauce. Chinese dimsums and Tibetan momos could also be eaten as appetisers.

An interesting dish is steamed chicken, infused with the flowery essence of lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves. This includes delicious bits of bamboo in traditional Thai green curry paste blended with the sweetness of coconut milk. But be aware that this is not a chicken breast but chopped chicken with a texture somewhat like tuna - Rs. 170. The pad Thai, a toss of noodles, bean sprouts, vegetables and spices, is also pleasingly comforting, as it should be. And in case you are into actual chilly lover, do ask for the Spicy and Sour Corn Salad - Rs. 110.

Many herbs and spices go into Thai food. In fact there are 38 ingredients that compose the Thai Curry Paste, says Chilly Seasson partner Tshering Narboo. Probably the only Delhi restaurant to do so. Every third or fourth day, fresh ingredients are obtained and the Thai Curry Paste is prepared at Tshering's Haus Khas apartment.

Apparently all proprietary Thai Curry pastes are not vegetarian, as shrimp paste is one of the main ingredients. Interestingly, Tshering's Curry Paste is strictly veggie, as she uses a vegetarian paste, only available in Thailand. While enjoying your meal, it is recommended that you check out either the Ginger Ale or the Blackcurrant Fizz. These refreshing drinks provide a smoothing respite to your tongue.

For desert, try the Chilled Lychee Mould. - Rs. 45 for sweet finale is more than welcome after a spicy Thai meal.

Come August Chilly Seasson plans to introduce fresh Thai coconut ice cream with genuine coconut cream, made in Thai style only.

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