Gaggan, Bangkok

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“Bong connection” – red mullet in green chilli herb marinade with Bengali mustard, sweet potato, all spice gel

The term “molecular gastronomy” is thrown around plenty these days. Perhaps even only a decade ago, the idea of using science to investigate how ingredients transform in the cooking process may have been seen as utterly ridiculous.

In recent years, prominent chefs such as Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adria have broken free from the clutches of the food world and reached the greater public about the art of molecular gastronomy. In Australia, we’ve all seen Blumenthal on Masterchef Australia with his liquid nitrogen bottles and wacky creations. And for something closer for punters, N2 Gelato in Sydney’s Chinatown have commercialised the notion, quick-freezing gelato by blasting it with liquid nitrogen to hordes of customers every night.

Gaggan in Bangkok, Thailand
Gaggan in Bangkok, Thailand

However, in this article by food writer Jay Rayner, Blumenthal clearly stated this displeasure with the term and said it created artificial barriers.

“Molecular makes it sound complicated…and gastronomy makes it sound elitist.”

When you add “fine dining” and “contemporary” to “molecular gastronomy”, you are likely left with a minute percentage of people who would still retain interest.

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One-quarter of the “Street eats from India” dish – a play on samosa

However, Gaggan Anand is part of a new wave of chefs using techniques pioneered by the likes of Blumenthal and Adria to take forward cuisines particularly close to their heart. In fact, the Indian trained at the acclaimed El Bulli in Spain under Adria.

Anand’s restaurant, Gaggan, is aptly housed in a beautiful colonial-style home in Bangkok. It has enjoyed a meteoric rise since its opening a few years ago. Gaggan is a trailblazer in its own right with its progressive Indian cuisine and currently holds the title of third-best restaurant in Asia and 17th on the World’s 50 Best list.

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“Keema Pav (lamb ragout)” – minced lamb curry, dehydrated tomato bread and chutney

My visit to Bangkok occurs just a few weeks after the political unrest and subsequent military coup in June. But all seems calm in the city and there was no way I would be missing out on Gaggan. Our booking is around dusk, with the setting sun and streak of colours in the sky illuminating the prestigious building and its surrounds.

The dining room is elegant but not stiflingly pretentious. The service is snappy but sincere. We are informed that only the two degustation menus are available. Perfect. We opt for the ten-course at around $70 per person. An absolute steal.

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“River King” – tandoor-grilled freshwater prawn with curry leaf infusion and mango chutney

I won’t rattle off paragraphs and paragraphs of food descriptions, but the dining experience was unlike anything else. Gaggan’s dishes are cheeky and definitely push the boundaries of taste and the human psyche. I mean, when you are told by the waiter to take a bag of wasabi nuts and eat it whole, including the plastic bag, what are you supposed to do?

From start to finish, the dishes are glorious. Anand’s degustation really hits you square in the jaw from the first minute the first course “Street Eats From India” (yogurt chaat, samosa, spiced nuts in an edible plastic bag, pani puri) is served, but the main course “British National Dish” (chicken tikka masala and naan bread) is surprisingly “normal”.

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Another one from “Street eats from India” – spiced nuts in an edible bag

There are syringes filled with gels, foams, jellies and strange flavour combinations. Anand says himself the food at his restaurant is “not pretentious” in this interview with Purva Mehra. It is “progressive Indian” cooking.

“Gaggan never was or will be pretentious, it’s real food. My restaurant may have a fine-dining setting, but the service and our attitude makes all the difference. Many have criticised us for not laying table cloths or offering single-page menus, but what matters is that people come here for the quality of the food. No cuisine can be pretentious, what tends to happen is that the restaurant starts to reflect the character of the people involved.”

I tend to agree. While the food is out-of-the-ordinary and not what people are accustomed to, you can see the inspiration of the dishes presented are so personal to Anand. Some people may call it Frankenstein cooking, but I believe it is inspired and gives a tiny insight into the innovative mind of chef Gaggan Anand.

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“Made in Japan” – White sesame cake, wasabi ice cream and miso leaves

At a little over $70AUD for a ten-course degustation, Gaggan offers spectacular value for money. Something I noticed during our three-hour dinner at Gaggan was the sheer number of solo diners at the restaurant. These people have come to Gaggan to experience a ten-course meal, SOLO. If this isn’t enough endorsement for one of the most acclaimed restaurants in Asia, I don’t know what is.

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Gaggan
68/1 Soi Langsuan
Ploenchit Road
Bangkok 10330
Ph. (662) 652 1700
http://www.eatatgaggan.com

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