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Thursday, Feb 05, 2004

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First-degree fare

THERE IS something we don't quite know about what sets street food apart. The French would say "Je ne sais quoi"; the Thais would rush to Sukhimvit and Silom streets, while our very own Dilliwallah would perhaps choose the Paranthe Wali Gali. Yet that something continues to elude all of them. It might be that refreshing popsicle, or maybe just the imaginative personal touches, the on-the-spot cooking displays and the festive environment that blend in to make it special. Cariappa Marg in New Delhi in that manner was no exception. The streets of Thailand were recreated for the Thai food fest held recently. The piping hot noodles, the stir fried prawns, the dimsums all sizzled and delighted the gourmet just as street food would, only this time it was the magic of the chefs at Bangkok Degree 1 restaurant in Sainik Farms.

Differing in a few respects, it still had the charm of the clamorous streets. The tunes of the bamboo flute, the touch of oriental music, the hustle and bustle of a marketplace, the bartender almost swaying to all of them to create that very special drink, it was all there. Decorated carts and trolleys caught everyone's attention. The rustic feel of the furniture too would have gone down well, had the smell of fresh paint not been its undoing. The food had its ups and downs as well. There were of course the ubiquitous noodles, the lip smacking red and green curries and the raw papaya salad known as som-tam, but the rest was mostly indistinguishable from each other, even to the hosts themselves. The Tom Yum soup was the perfect starter, but not much can be said about the som-tam. True, it was a crunchy salty delicacy just as it should have been, but those special ingredients, which one would find on the streets of Thailand were missing. Maybe just some optional tomato, beans or a field crab would have done wonders. Satays and chicken could also have been hot favourites, but some people couldn't help but choose only pancakes, knowing that the other delicacies weren't halal.

A few borrowings from the regular menu however boosted the prospects. Varieties of fish went down well with those who liked buttermilk flavour in it. Juices and Thai style tea also beckoned the diners in their very special way. The festival was by and large good, but it could have been better.


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