My 2019 culinary adventures started off with quite a bang (literally so many dishes exploded with flavors and textures at this restaurant) at Bangkok’s Gaggan, 2018 World’s #5 and Asia’s #1 restaurant. Headed by Indian Chef Gaggan Anand, Gaggan has shown the world that Indian food is complex, historic and can be refined and is far more than just curries and naan or “comfort food.” As Gaggan said in Netflix’s Chef’s Table, “In India, food is our religion […] And if that country that has such deep knowledge of food is not represented in the world at the right levels it’s a disgrace to me.”
I knew I had a 8 hour layover in Bangkok and immediately thought I could squeeze in a meal, and what better place, other than the street foods, than Gaggan? I looked online and their online booking tool said they were full but I was not giving up so I called their reservation line, which has inconvenient hours for those in the States, but I stayed up and called. The friendly reservationist informed me that they would totally be able to squeeze me in as a party of 1 and even told me how long to expect the meal to take and already noted that I had a flight to catch. Credit Card is needed to guarantee reservations, and cancels must be done 36 hours prior. Dress code is Smart Casual, no shorts or sneakers allowed.
As I was told when I visited India, you can view India as one India, two Indias (North and South), or 29 Indias (29 states). That is the same for India’s cuisine, which is as Gaggan says, so often misunderstood and looked down upon. Within each state alone there are hundred of recipes and ways of cooking that much of the world remains unaware of, or that they just dont realize some current flavors and techniques originate here. We can partly blame the British colonization for this in my opinion, though that also gave birth to Chicken Tikka Masala (surprise, its British NOT Indian). “30-36 cuisines, completely different geographically and now it’s all known as curry, British named any soupy stew curry, there is no word for curry in India. Chicken tikka masala is British invention, but it’s a national symbol, tea (chai) is Persian not Indian. We have kept Indian food as comfort food which is why it hasn’t left India,” – Gaggan, he continues on his quest to show the world what Indian food really is, and that a serious chef can cook Indian food. He wanted to prove the doubters wrong, as he was told many times that Indian food can never be fine dining as its simply comfort food, to be honest the same debate could be applied to Chinese/ many Asian cuisines which have in recent years finally gained the spotlight they deserve, you’re welcome France and Italy and wherever else for all the spices and techniques. Sometimes comfort food is so good and fulfilling that it can be hard to change people’s perceptions on it because it is what they are most “comfortable” with.
And I’ll admit, growing up, Indian food in my mind was curry and naan and sadly even when I went to India that was all I really pursued. I was constantly reminded to not eat street food and really only from hotels or trusted restaurants, this is one of my biggest regrets. I wish I just ignored the world’s constant fear of street food (I know, some have legit gotten sick in India, but thats because most in the West dont grow up on street food), and went for it to discover the real Indian flavors and textures. Also remember its really only in Asia where a street stalls receive Michelin Stars. Then in the last 10 years, from Gaggan to many other restaurants across the globe, Indian food has had a renaissance and is as Gaggan had hoped, its becoming a new realm of serious “refined” food on the global culinary stage.
I really admire Gaggan’s ambitions, no BS attitude and approach to his craft and life, and the passion and how he incorporates his own interests into his food and menu. Creating often tongue and cheek experiences at the restaurant. He enjoys music and food, so he incorporates both in his menu, as you will see. He even drew inspiration from music, “If Pink Floyd can make a 20.minute song and make it sound good then I can make 23 courses of Indian food without serving more than one curry.”
Gaggan incorporates and demonstrates Chatpata, which is umami in India, or the memory of taste and revolves around the Four S: sweet, salty, sour, and spicy. He designed the menu and dining experience so that the first part is rapid fire, as he wants people to be shot at with food, point blank, shock them before they know it, and its true thats what happens. As I did, the goal is for guests to finish First 10 dishes in 25 minutes. Then comes the journey through regions of India, and in my case the plates quite literally formed a map of India. But he also plays with ingredients and concepts, such as creating Indian foie gras with goat brain. Then he heard and learned about El Bulli and the magic of the master of molecular gastronomy: Ferran Adria. And since he wanted to change Indian cuisine and the country he came from, he self learned from El Bulli books. He even applied for and got an apprenticeship at El Bulli! Gaggan was inspired to be the El Bulli of Indian Cuisine. What was the dish that changed El Bulli? Sphereified olive, so conquer a dish that is very Indian and have Indians accept it like olives for Spain, what is this dish to India? Yogurt, spherificstion of yogurt. And so his signature dish was born; Yogurt Explosion: symbol of progressive Indian cuisine, and let me say it really is amazing.
Gaggan continues to ask himself: How do you stay relevant? You continue to push and destroy stereotypes. He still wants to return to India and challenge it, now that he knows Indian food can conquer the world. And he has announced that Gaggan in Bangkok will close its doors in 2020 as he pursues the next step in his culinary revolution.
A meal at Gaggan really is a surprise awaiting each bit. You simply dont know what to expect and what will come next. You start with an emoji menu, each emoji representing an ingredient or theme, so really still have no idea what is coming. Then each dish comes and it is nothing like you could possibly imagine. The very friendly, outgoing and professional staff explain, and you might half understand as many ingredients and inspirations are true Indian foods (not naan and curries), then you are told how to eat the dish and do it. Some dishes literally will explode in your mouth and then just a fireworks of flavors and textures ensue, some dishes themselves are already a unique mix of flavors and textures and each bite reveals something new. Then there are the dishes where a speaker is brought out and you listen to some Pink Floyd whiling eating your dish, or you are told that the way to eat your dish is literally lick it off the plate.
The service is what maybe I would call rustic refined. Everyone is well dressed, white linen table service and all. But the staff are not at all pretentious, uptight or too serious. They all know who their boss is, and what the Gaggan experience is meant to be like and really embody all of it. They are fun, friendly, willing to answer any and all questions. Upon my arrival the head waiter immediately knew I needed to catch a flight and informed I should be fine and the kitchen already knew, he even walked me through the pacing and offered a kitchen tour afterwards.
There is only one menu, and yes they do accommodate dietary restrictions. The 23 course menu is 6500THB (USD$206) + 10% service and 7% tax. 9 wine pairing is 4000THB (USD$127).
Unfortunately, the man himself was not in that night.
First wine: Efflorescence Pinot Noir Champagne
A Little Citrus: orange and yuzu
Yogurt Explosions, his signature dish. He wanted to conquer and change a dish that was core to Indian food like Ferran Adria did with olives in Spain at El Bulli, so he sphereified yogurt
Bose speakers were brought out and laid on the tables….what is going on?
What Did you Lick: paired with KISS’ “Lick It Up” song, Curry, bell pepper jam, onion pork chutney, mango yuzu and sweet pea
Second wine: Christian Binner Pinot Gris with rose and vin orange, Alsace
Chili Egg Nest: Fried potato nest with white chocolate cocoa chili burst
Idly Sambar Breakfast: South Indian breakfast inspired, fermented rice cake with Sambar bubble and curry leaf
Bombay Bhel Sandwich: Rice Puff sandiwch with tamarind and asparagus powder
At this point I was wondering why the plates werent being cleared, then I was told it actually forms a puzzle and to start playing with it and guess the final piece.
Third wine: Grafin, Maria and Sepp Muster
Egg Tart Ghewar: Rajasthani dessert inspired, eggs, egg tart
Charcoal Pyaz Kachori: Charcoal with onion curry inside and fried tempura. Delicious
5 plates created a map of India, each dish inspired by a specific region of India
White asparagus No Its Cauliflower: Cauliflower or white asparagus? I kind of dont remember honestly but it was tasty, I think it was cauliflower now that i think of it, with clove dry ice bbq
Fourth wine: Vin d’Alsace, Lauren Bannwarth, Red Bild 2015
Cheese Porcini Pav: four cheese and porcini bao with smoked hay. so tasty. Smokiness with the different tastes of the cheese and the earthy porcini with the fluffy bun
one of my favorites of the night,
Eggplant Pomegranate Sundae: eggplant, pomegranate with yuzu. Soo so good, the wrap is made with eggplant heart. Various textures, the bitter, the sweet, the tart and different temperatures of the items including eggplant ice cream, all so good. First you feel the temperature, then the textures then the flavors explode
Puchka Liver Mulled Wine: Foie Gras filled panipuri with mulled wine inside too, so good. I think the foie gras is actually goat’s brain?
Fifth wine: Sake
another incredible dish full of complexity yet simplicity and balance
Sea Urchin Hay Ice Cream: Smoke Hay eggplant ice cream, pickled green apple wrap (not seaweed), Hokkaido sea urchin. Smoky, sweet, tart and salty
Otoro Sushi tribute: Dashi merengue instead of rice, O-Toro, yuzu and wasabi
Winter carrot pepper soup: winter black carrot soup, tamarind pepper tomatoes
Sixth wine: 2014 Grand vin de Bourgogne, Beaune, Sarnin-Berrux
River Prawn balchao: Tandoori Prawn with Balchao curry sauce
Scallops cold curry: No curry used at all but tasted like curry. Raw Scallop, cold curry (coconut milk, coconut ice cream, chili oils) idea is that curry never looks so pretty so mix it all up to create curry taste
Tibetan Momo Pork Vindaloo: Pork vindaloo black garlic momo, pickled coconut, chili, mango chutney, so good
Seventh wine: Gutoggau Josephine (Rot)
Lamb Chop Lemon Chili: lamb marinated in lemon with a yuzu chili chutney, perfectly cooked and flavored
Sea bass bengali paturi: Burned Japanese cedar, banana leaf, sea bass, green masala, very tasty and smoky
Grandma’s Egg Spinach, My Death Star: Aged Basmanti Rice, spinach curry and slow cooked egg
Eighth wine of the night: Vino di Anna, vino bianco
This rose has no thorns: Rose made of daikon and beetroot pedals atop chocolate chip cookie
Achu murukku Strawberry Yogurt: Strawberry Ice Cream and jam, fried Indian cookie
9th Wine: 2013 Vin d’Alsace, Lauren Bannwarth, Gewurztraminer
Ying & Yang Salt Pepper Popcorn: Saled caramel pepper popcorn
Final dessert, Dark Side of the Moon, paired with Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.”Dark Chocolate, coffee, vanilla, summer fruit jelly. Take the chocolate wipe across the plate and eat.
The night’s wine lineup
Kitchen tour, including Private Chef’s table, dessert kitchen and main kitchen
Is Gaggan worth the trip? Cost? Hype? Is it true to what the man himself proclaims and as its portrayed in Netflix? YES, and more. I truly had no idea what to expect and each dish truly was a surprising journey of the senses and opened my mind to the dynamic world of Indian cuisine. If you are in Bangkok, or even have a long layover, I would try to get a table. Definitely worth it! A meal full of Chatpata and the tastes will indeed be ingrained in you.