One that comes to my mind instantly when you ask me that is my meal at Gaggan in Thailand.
I was traveling in Thailand for the second or third time. This was back when I was living in India. While I was there, I would travel to Thailand for fun sometimes.
This particular time, I was traveling with my family and they tasked me with finding interesting restaurants. They’re not active foodies, but they enjoy food. So, I looked around for something interesting and I came across an Indian restaurant in Thailand. He was doing Indian food in a way that intrigued me.
It was a very elevated version of Indian food. Having lived in India for a long time, I definitely noticed that Indian food isn’t normally done that way. Even in India, nobody’s really doing that. I thought that it was fascinating that it was happening in Thailand. So, I was just really intrigued by that right off the surface. I ended up just making a reservation. It was super easy to get in, because the restaurant was on a top Asia list at the time.
The location was really cool, even driving up to it. It was not what you’d often expect for restaurants in Asia. They tend to be a little grandiose and have huge facades. This was a beautiful old house that was tucked behind a massage parlor. It was very low-key. There were also some candles outside.
When you walk into the place, it’s very white and beige with little pops of color. The decor was definitely atypical of most Indian restaurants. They tend to be very colorful, ornate, and a little over the top. My whole meal proceeded to be this really interesting experience that was more theatrical.
I believe the chef, Gaggan Anand, only does tasting menus. The meal really was an amazing experience, because you felt like you were part of someone’s journey. It was partly your own as well, because you were eating it and experiencing it. But, it was very much someone else’s.
Yeah. It’s definitely not something you find often.
He had a lot of very good ones. I did a little bit of research on the courses after the fact, because Gaggan was in a show that I like to watch called Chef’s Table on Netflix.
This was many years after I went there, so I remembered some courses after seeing that episode. And he trained with the guy [Ferran Adrià] at elBulli.
Yeah, it’s the last one in Season 2. So, Gaggan took some cues from elBulli. When you first sit down, he serves you a lot of things very quickly. A lot of quick interesting bites.
One of them that sticks out in my head is a yogurt ball that is similar to a traditional North Indian-style street food item. That immediately appealed to me, because I had lived in North India for a long time. So, it was very cool to see this stylistic approach to it.
Yes, it was a modern take on Indian food. I think that’s definitely his overall mission with this restaurant: to prove that Indian cuisine can be really cutting edge.
There were definitely some crazy cocktails there. A lot of things that utilized liquid nitrogen. It was an interesting choice. That kind of cuisine can be really cool, but it can feel kind of gimmicky as well.
In some of the other restaurants where you see that done, it’s like “This is cool and it looks pretty, but I wouldn’t come back for it.”
In comparison, this style felt more purposeful and much more thought-provoking than you might expect from hearing someone describe it as molecular gastronomy with Indian food.
That’s essentially what it was, but Gaggan’s approach really mattered and stood out.
Definitely. And I had this great waiter who’s probably the most bombastic and crazy waiter I’ve ever had. He literally put some food into some of our mouths.
It was totally over the top and wild. He was a very interesting guy. We ended up learning his life story throughout the course of the meal.
You definitely touched on that in the first conversation in this series.
My family comes off as more American, where this meal is more our own family time. But, when you come to a place like Gaggan, you kind of throw yourself in there and are ready to experience something new. This waiter definitely added to the experience a lot.
You do end up peeking at what other tables are doing, because the dishes are crazy and eye-catching. But we didn’t really directly interact with other tables.
Here, you end up focusing a lot on your own meal, because there’s a lot going on in front of you. Visually, it’s actually difficult to take in what’s happening. So, you end up focusing inwards on your own experience.
The chef came out and introduced himself. We chatted for a little bit, which is something I always love. It’s something you don’t see in a lot of places.
With Gaggan, you can see that the chef is super excited about what he’s doing. He’s the type of guy who really wants to go out and talk to everyone.
You can tell from watching him that some of the people in the restaurant had met him a couple of times and he’s clearly doing this often. It wasn’t just a lucky night that we got to talk to him.
Definitely. But, as a guest, I’ve always appreciated that interaction. It always made it more special to me.
To break it down, I think that Gaggan was just a fusion of a lot of my personal interests. It worked really well for this particular meal. All together, the feelings I have about that experience has always been something I’ve looked for in other restaurants.
This is true. It’s also unfortunate that to get meals like Gaggan you have to spend a lot of money. In Boston, you could go to a place like Shepard and maybe get a similar experience. But, those aren’t things you can go to often and you can’t really experience it with a large group of people necessarily either.
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