Showing posts with label Thailand. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thailand. Show all posts

Tasting Thai food with Thai Select Canada

I love all the influences that Thai cuisine integrates: Chinese due to the origins of the early migrants who moved from southwestern China to Thailand bringing chilies and the stir-frying techniques; Portuguese when the Europeans first discovered the country adding seafood and coconuts; and India as traders brought many of the lovely spices and curries we enjoy today.

While Thailand’s population is over 65-million strong, according to Toronto’s Thai Trade Centre, there’s only about 11,000 people in Canada. Despite the small Canadian population, restaurants are well represented – especially in the metropolitan areas. Thailand’s government aims to protect the reputation of their food by instituting the Thai Select program, which endorses the authenticity of a restaurant (in terms of food and hospitality) and encourages those who don’t meet the qualifications to change their techniques.

If you see a restaurant bearing the Thai Select logo, it essentially certifies
  • a minimum of 60% of the menu is authentic Thai dishes; and
  • the cooking methods used are similar to what’s done in Thailand.
Restaurants awarded the premium status create dishes of a “premium” quality and also takes into account the overall décor and experience. Food isn’t just prepared authentically, it’s presented authentically with intricate decorations (as seen by the beautiful sculpted vegetable carvings).

I’ll admit, until being invited to the Thai Trade Centre, I’ve never recognized the Thai Select logo. I’m likely not alone, although 88 restaurants in Canada have already earned the certification, the general public knows little about the prestigious program. To change this, the Thai Trade Centre enlisted EatNMingle’s help to organize a Taste Thailand Tour.

Having been to a number of blogger events, there’s always latecomers who arrive halfway through. Not on this day! The eight of us (so thankful to be selected for such a small group) were so excited that everyone was early, eager to begin our travel from Toronto to Kingston and then Ottawa. Along with members from the Thai Trade Centre, Chef Nuit (Thai Select’s Canadian Ambassador), and Chef Jeff Regular (of Pai restaurant in Toronto), we set off… on time!

On board the bus, a breakfast from Patchmon’s Thai Dessert staved off our hunger. Inside, two flaky pastries (one filled with curried potato and the second encapsulating taro and mushroom) and delicious pineapple cookies.

Indeed, it’s a heavy breakfast. Similar to other East Asian cultures, breakfast in Thailand generally tends to be a substantial meal. Items like congee, fried dough and noodles are frequently consumed to give everyone the necessary energy throughout the day. Patchmon’s puffs consisted of delicate crispy layers – the curried potato akin to a lighter samosa, while the taro and mushroom an interesting earthy combination.

Given my day was all about eating, I didn’t need that much sustenance, so saved the pineapple cookies for the following day. If you’re familiar with the Tawainese pineapple cakes, Patchmon’s cookies has a similar thin soft crust and centre, except less sweet and not as heavy. I loved the pineapple slivers you could still see and taste inside the pastry and its chewy sticky consistency, similar to a fig newton.

Another treat for the day was visiting the Thailand Ambassador for Canada, His Excellency Mr. Vijavat Isarabhakdi, at his family’s home in Ottawa. A beautiful property, located on a quiet residential street, the pale blue and white decor throughout the house was utterly tranquil.

Yet, there were so many interesting photos, beautiful sculptures and intricate flower arrangements that I didn’t know where to look first! All while sipping on the most delicious sweetened coconut water with young coconut pieces.

Settling into the dining room, an elegant afternoon tea was laid out. As much as I love scones with Devonshire cream, savoury foods steal my heart, so I’ll opt for the Thai afternoon tea any day. The thoong thong are rice paper sachets filled with a chicken, shrimp and crab mixture and tied together with a spring onion. Resembling a filled coin purse, the crisp golden bites were the perfect bite sized hors d’oeuvres.

While the tod man gai is traditionally made with fish, His Excellency’s chef switched the protein for chicken instead. Made into a paste with red curry, kaffir lime leaves, and micro fine pieces of green beans, the skewers were almost like meat balls, except pan fried. Despite being dunked into a sweet sauce, the glaze was very light and with the crisp vegetables was rather nice.

A modern take on Thai cuisine was served - the same spicy salmon salad that won a competition hosted amongst the other Embassy chefs. Salmon is rare in Thailand, but the sashimi style fish dressed with lemongrass, chili, lime juice, mint and avocado was delicious.

The sole sweet was a coconut sticky rice topped with Thai custard. Normally, the warm sweet and salty rice dessert is served with fruits. This rendition took the dessert to the next level by adding a luscious smooth palm sugar and egg custard. You could eat each layer separately and be satisfied, but together the contrasting textures were fantastic.   

During the tea, we learnt all about the Thai Select program and His Excellency’s love for food. Moreover, he shared that since 2017 will be Canada’s 150th birthday, all Embassies have been invited to host an event at the pavilion in Ottawa. Of course, Thailand will be showcasing their warm culture and delicious food as well.

It wouldn’t be a tasting tour without restaurant visits, we sampled so much that our lunch at Thai House Cuisine and dinner at Sukhothai became posts of their own (click the names for the corresponding review).

Looking back at the meals and reading Thai Select’s website, they describe the tradition best: “A popular way to savor the delight of the Thai meal is dining together with a group of friends and share the many dishes together. It's always a hearty feast filled with fun and fiery flavors of Thai culinary creations.”

What started out as a group of individuals, many who didn’t know each other, ended as a night of mischievous laughter (thank you to His Excellency for gifting us bottles of pad Thai sauce that made for an interesting KFC popcorn chicken rest stop cooking experience). As we proceeded through each meal, we certainly savoured the feasts, but also connected and bonded over the dishes.

Seize the day! Grab a group of loved ones and do a Taste Thailand Tour across Canada of your own. You even have a navigator: just visit Thai Select and let the help guide your journey.  

How To Find Them

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Visit Destination Thailand at Yonge Dundas Square

Destination Thailand’s third anniversary means another huge festival at Yonge Dundas Square. One of the largest in Canada, the Royal Thai Embassy transforms downtown Toronto into the friendly warm country with traditional dances, exotic fruits, crafts, massages, Muay Thai, entertainment, and of course authentic cuisine!

The Royal Thai Embassy also operates a worldwide certification program, Thai Select, which grades restaurants on their authenticity. Aside from using traditional ingredients, chefs are also judged by their cooking method and how closely that matches actual approaches used in Thailand. In Canada, the 88 restaurants that meet their requirements are given a premium or red status. At the festival, eight local establishments will be featured:

  • Bangkok Garden
  • Golden Thai
  • Linda Modern Thai
  • Pai Toronto
  • Patchmon’s Thai Dessert
  • Soi Thai
  • Stratford Thai Cuisine
  • Thai Noodle
Having sampled eats from six of the eight vendors at a media event, I can say attendees are in for a treat. Although these will likely be the dishes served at the festival (ranging from $5-$10), the selection may change depending on ingredient availability.

Pai’s gai ping is the most flavourful and tender grilled chicken skewers I’ve ever had. Chef Nuit Regular freely shared that the meat is so succulent due to being marinated in coconut milk. Meanwhile, the rich flavours are derived from a paste of tamarind, fish sauce, lime juice and chilies.

For something different try their moo nam tok, slices of grilled pork jowl mixed with a spicy sweet and sour tamarind sauce that goes perfectly with steamed sticky rice. The dish smells a good as it looks, just be sure you can handle the heat as the chili and herb sauce on top is surprisingly spicy.

With the success of the Regulars’ restaurants (Khao SanRoad, Pai, Sabai Sabai), it’s not surprising that Chef Nuit is Thai Select’s ambassador of Canada where she’ll promote the program and encourage fellow restaurateurs to uphold authentic standards. Having dined at their restaurants, there’s no doubt that they serve the best Thai food I’ve ever had – as I write this I’m wistful for another skewer of gai ping.

If you enjoy sauce drenched rice like myself, try the massaman lamb curry from Golden Thai. The lamb is melt-in-your-mouth tender without any gaminess and the flavourful curry goes so well with rice. Vegetarians, Golden Thai will also be serving tempeh or grilled tofu and vegetable satay skewers (served with peanut, sweet Thai, or hot sauces).

The second non-meat offering at Destination Thailand comes from Bangkok Garden who will be featuring a golden vegetable curry. If you’re a carnivore, try their spicy cashew chicken, which although looks innocent has a flavourful punch.

Linda Modern Thai has been experimenting with their menu to ensure it can be reproduced with their high standards. At the media event, they were showcasing the likely contenders:

  • An interesting Thai beef salad consisting of flank steak marinated with Thai basil coconut syrup, which has a sweet tartness to it not unlike balsamic vinegar.
  • Traditional grilled lemongrass chicken is elevated with a seafood sangwa sauce that the chef explains is like a salsa verde with fish sauce and lemongrass. It’s salty and sour against the smoky grilled chicken and the dots of homemade sriracha are spicy without being overpowering.  

Soi Thai, based on College Street, generally sells dishes reminiscent of the street foods in Thailand. At the festival, they will be offering a hearty complete meal: khao kha moo or succulent braised pork hocks stewed in a flavourful soy sauce broth studded with star anise, cinnamon, cilantro root, garlic and white peppercorns to give it an earthy and slightly sweet seasoning.

If you find it overly rich, dip it into the spicy chili-vinegar on the side that helps cut the grease. The pork hock arrives shredded over steamed jasmine rice and is served with blanched gai lan (Chinese broccoli), pickled mustard greens, and half a hard-boiled egg … you’ll leave full after this dish, so share it!

My first taste of Thai desserts was an introduction with Patchmon’s, a family run eatery that concocts a wide variety of sweets. I love the kha-nhom chun, a chewy glutinous coconut layer cake – you can actually peel each layer apart. Put together with coconut cream, pandan juice and tapioca flour the dessert is light and delicious. It’s normally served at special occasions and wishes a person good luck as they travel up the layers.

For those who like savoury and sweet combinations, the kha-nhom sai-sai is a dumpling stuffed with a savoury shredded coconut filling, lightly sweetened with palm sugar and coconut cream, and then steamed in lotus leaf. Their ta-goe is another surprising dessert, starting off as a luscious coconut cream on top but below a slightly salty tapioca layer with young coconut and corn studded throughout.  

With tons of desserts, Patchmon will be offering a mix-and-match plate. Arrive early and try their gleeb lum duan cookies shaped like a flower. The shortbread like cookies are finished with a food safe candle that adds a light charcoal taste and fragrance, but it can dissipate as the day advances so won’t be as pronounced for later customers.   

Judging by the hot sunny weather Toronto has been graced with this year, it’ll likely be a beautiful warm day. So, you’ll likely want a cold drink to wash down all the spicy eats. Luckily, Singha beers will be on hand selling their brews for $6; head to their special seating area for a refreshing cold drink.

Don’t forget to pick up a free passport and have it stamped at each vendor. Visit at least five of the restaurants and you’ll receive a free t-shirt and be entered into a contest to win meals for two for one year (limited to two visits per month)!

Visitors can even get a relaxing massage at two places: Shivaga Thai Massage and Traditional Thai Massage Association of Ontario. They’ll offer services with varying timing, but a massage is about $65. After an afternoon of eating and drinking how relaxing would a massage be? Just try not to fall asleep. 

How To Find Them
 Date and Time: Sep 10, 2016 from 11am - 8pm
 Address: Yonge and Dundas Square
 Pricing: Free entrance; extra for food, crafts and services

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