On The Road Life & Style

From Thailand to Chennai, exploring chocolate and spice

Sutthiphat Footrakul came to the city in search of a chocolate course. But he found a lot more: paan, streetside shopping, kindred souls and food stories

This is the second time that Sutthiphat Footrakul has crossed borders just to taste chocolate. The first time he brought some of his own to share, complete with a custom-made decorative pattern.

“A few years ago, I was sent to Vietnam by the hotel I was working for, because my boss really wanted me to try different types of chocolate. I didn’t understand why I was sent — how different can it be? It’s just chocolate. But boy was I surprised,” says the Thailand-based hotelier.

It was a simple, complementary bedside sample that he first tasted, but very distinct from what he had been used to, recalls the aspiring chocolatier, who was in Chennai for a recent course on craft chocolates conducted by the UK-based International Institute of Cacao Tasting. A course that enabled him to meet, swap technical experience and study with craft chocolate makers not only from Tamil Nadu, but from around the world.

Sutthiphat’s willingness to fly in for the course is proof of how much he has now grown to love chocolate. The excitement in his voice as he describes paan is proof of how much he has enjoyed his maiden trip to India. “I forget what exactly it is called: a leaf stuffed with some spices that you just pop in your mouth and chew. It has a very surprising taste.”

From Thailand to Chennai, exploring chocolate and spice

“Surprise” and “fun” are two words peppered throughout his throwback account, and not just with regards to the food. Having spent about four days in Chennai before flying back home, Sutthiphat has had time to get over his initial shock of the frenzied, new [to him] atmosphere, and let a little bit of the city’s spirit sink in. “At first, I was nervous and scared of the traffic and all the rush. But I was also surprised by the people: they are very friendly. They helped me out, guided me, and even suggested where I could go shop,” he recalls. He spent the better part of one evening browsing through the streetside stalls of Pondy Bazaar, buying “gold-coloured jewellery” for his mother. But souvenirs aside, what stays with him most, he says, is the food.

“I was told that Indian food is very spicy, and South Indian food even more so. I bought some cup noodles as soon as I landed, just to be safe. But I had to carry them all back with me, because I didn’t open a single one. All I ate was the local food,” he laughs, before launching into a discussion about the differences between spiced foods in India and Thailand.

“Indian spices are better balanced, they don’t feel harsh,” he says, adding that there were a few things that he found in common with both cuisines as well. “Like coconut. We tried a lamb and coconut dish at Savya Rasa, it was delicious.” The flurry of tastes and flavours were also refreshingly different from the lunches he and his “classmates” were served during the course. Those had been kept on the blander side, deliberately and carefully, so as not to interfere with taste buds and affect their ability to analyse flavour and aroma. “I struggled with that part of the course at first, but after a lot of trying I finally got it. It always surprises me how many tastes there can be in chocolate.”

In this series, we feature people who continue to work as they travel

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Printable version | Jul 7, 2020 9:15:10 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/thailand-based-hotelier-sutthiphat-footrakul-explores-chocolate-and-spice-in-chennai/article28859525.ece

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