Bangkok Post reviews
Taste of tradition
- Writer: Bangkok Post Editorial
- Published: October 26, 2012 at 8:13 am
Panettone restaurant may be Italian by name, but it's wonderfully Thai by nature
Panettone, a small and atmospheric Thai restaurant on Nakhon Chaisi Road.
When a friend suggested a visit to the Sri Yaan area this past weekend for an evening meal at a restaurant called Panettone, Ung-aang Talay naturally conjured up images of a table groaning under the weight of an array of antipasti, heaped plates of pasta, a fragrant parmigiana or oreganata dish and, perhaps a pre-seasonal slice of the Italian Christmas bread after which the place was named.
So when Panettone turned out to be a small and atmospheric Thai restaurant set in an old-style house and decorated with pictures and objects that evoked an earlier and, from a culinary standpoint, perhaps more interesting era, it came as a surprise.
A surprise, but not a disappointment, because the place exerts a powerful charm even before the first dish is set on the table. Many years ago the house was a Thai boxing academy, and old, black and white photos of illustrious alumni share wall space with a museum's worth of family mementos that link directly back to Bangkok's less hectic days. The menu, too, has its old-fashioned aspects, with dishes listed that have become comparative rarities.
From among these, U-a T and friend asked for a serving of see khrong moo tom madan (a soup made from pork ribs and sour madan fruit with herbs), together with nam phrik khee kaa (a mildly spicy dipping sauce eaten with vegetables), het sod pat kung sai phrik Thai dam (shrimp and mushrooms stir-fried with crushed black pepper), and phak khom pat tao jio (a spinach-like herb stir-fried with fermented soybean sauce).
Tom madan dishes, in fact all dishes made with madan, have become something of a rarity on today's menus, and U-a T wonders why. These pretty, shiny, dark-green fruits have a sourness and fragrance unlike those of any other, and old cookbooks suggest many delectable ways to prepare them. Nam phrik madan still turns up occasionally, with the crisp slivers of raw madan giving the sauce a mouthwatering sour bite, and U-a T has seen other recipes on the menu at restaurants that specialise in traditional Thai cooking, such as the always fascinating Nahm.
Panettone's see khrong moo tom madan is spicy, but the chilli heat is carefully balanced with the sourness and taste of the madan, so that its special contribution to the dish is not overwhelmed. When the restaurant asked if U-a T wanted it prepared full-blast in terms of chilli heat, U-a T said yes, trusting the kitchen not to lay into the phrik khee noo with too heavy a hand.
U-a T was also happy to find a definite zap of the spiciness called phet rawn in Thai, the kind of heat associated with peppercorns and seasonings such as bai yeera and dee plee, present in the harmonious blend of tastes and aromas.
Clockwise from top, het sod pat kung sai phrik Thai dam (shrimp and mushrooms stir-fried with crushed black pepper), see khrong moo tom madan (a soup made from pork ribs and sour madan fruit with herbs), phak khom pat tao jio (a spinachlike herb stir-fried with fermented soybean sauce), and nam phrik khee kaa (a mildly spicy dipping sauce eaten with vegetables).
The pork in the dish was present in limited quantity, but what there was, was tender and nicely flavoured by the spicy broth. Lemongrass, fresh coriander, and mushrooms also contributed their tastes and textures, but it was the madan that made the dish most welcome.
Nam phrik khee kaa is another recipe that earlier generations probably tasted more often than people do today. It is made from roasted phrik noom chillies together with garlic and phrik khee noo, the last ingredient contributing the spicy heat that phrik noom lacks. In U-a T's experience, this dish usually includes dried shrimp as the meat ingredients, but Panettone used flaked tuna fish instead, and it worked well. Their version of the dish took the form of a very thick, almost dry paste that was easy to spoon onto the lettuce, cucumber, eggplant, long bean or boiled egg pieces with which it shared the platter.
Both straw mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms were included in the pat phrik Thai dam dish. The mushrooms were stir fried with shrimp, large pieces of onion and sweet bell pepper, with plenty of cracked black pepper added. This potent ingredient managed to give the dish plenty of flavour and aroma without completely hijacking it. Well worth sampling.
There isn't a lot that a cook can do to make spinach stir-fried with tao jio sauce either profoundly disappointing or deeply memorable _ it is what it is. In this case, U-a T found it to be a little on the bland side of ideal, with the smoky flavour of tao jio less prominent than it might have been. The vegetable was well cooked, however _ tender and not stringy, as it can be if left on the fire for too long _ and harmonised well with the other dishes on the table.
The restaurant's name, by the way, does have its point of reference. Panettone makes a large selection of Western-style cakes, with panettone in different sizes displayed among them. The one that U-a T tried, full of candied fruit, was obviously made by someone who loves the recipe, and it helped explain why this item, among all the foods listed on the menu, got to grace the restaurant with its name.
Service at Panettone is almost family-like in its friendliness and cordiality, and prices are low. The meal described above, without alcohol, came to less than 600 baht.